The Monday conviction of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have triggered protests country-wide, with media denouncing the sentence of seven years jail time with hard labour.
From Mandalay to Pyay demonstrations were held peacefully. In front of Pyay’s statue of Bogyoke Aung San, the father of Burma’s independence, protesters gathered on Tuesday holding posters calling for the pair to be released.
“The real murderers were sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment, but the reporters who uncovered the information have been sentenced to seven years, it looks like reporters are losing their human rights,” journalist Kaung Myat Min told DVB.
Member of the Students Union for Pyay University Ye Kyaw Thu called it a “great shame” for the country and urged the international community, embassies and the public to continue protesting and calling for the freedom of Reuters duo.
In a peaceful demonstration in Mandalay local reporters gathered at the Maharani Pagoda on the evening of the verdict to pray.
Protester Nay Myo Lin also pointed at those in the government for staying silent on their case: “The State Counsellor [Aung San Suu Kyi] also said the reporters were guilty, so this punishment looks like oppression on all journalists.”
A statement was released by 83 civil society groups calling on the government to release the journalists.
Others called to question the judge’s remarks that because Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had the phone number of ethnic armed group Arakan Army and security plans of the Pope’s visit to Burma that this was grounds for charging them under the Officials Secrets Act.
“There’s no safety for journalists who cover news the military,” Salai Kaung Myat Min told DVB. “The military tried to control journalists so that they don’t dare contact ethnic armed groups.”
Previously two reporters from DVB and one journalist from the Irrawaddy were charged for their contact with the TNLA (Ta’ang National Liberation Army).
In light of this accusation linking journalists who have the contact numbers of ethnic armed groups, the campaign #arrestmetoo has also been launched online.
Youth activist in Yangon Ko Aung Zaw again expressed his disbelief and says he hopes the public will continue to raise their voices and stand together against this attack on press freedom: “I’m really sad for the two journalists, their families, but also for press freedom and the role of law in this country.”
There are plans for more protests. All activists DVB spoke to said that they hope for more of the public to take part and stand up for their rights. “Every activist knows that this case was unjust. But, most people don’t know it. So we need to try to make people know it first,” adds Maung Saungkha, Director of Athan – Freedom of Expression Organization.