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A Rangoon judge on Monday found Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo guilty under the country’s broadly worded Official Secrets Act, in a landmark case that has become the biggest test of press freedom under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership.
Judge Ye Lwin said the reporters violated journalism ethics and the law when they obtained top secret documents, before sentencing them to seven years in prison including hard labour. The defendants had pleaded not guilty.
“The defendants … have breached Official Secrets Act section 3.1.c, and are sentenced to seven years. The time already served by the defendants from December 12 will be taken into consideration,” the judge said, according to Reuters.
The reporters had testified that two police officers handed them documents a restaurant in north Rangoon, shortly before more police arrived and swiftly arrested them.
A police witness testified in the pre-trial hearings that they had been instructed by Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko to trap Wa Lone, or risk punishment.
That police witness, Captain Moe Yan Naing, was later imprisoned under what the police said was an unrelated disciplinary matter.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigated the massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys at the time of their arrest. The top secret documents were already published in the media at the time of their detainment. The Burmese military, known as Tatmadaw, later admitted to the killings in Inn Dinn, northern Arakan State.
Fortify Rights human rights specialist John Quinley III described the verdict as “an outrageous denial of justice.”
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating atrocity crimes that may amount to genocide. This is an absolute travesty and devastating day for media freedom across the world and in Myanmar. Journalism is not a crime. The Myanmar authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They should both be able to continue their steadfast and important work as investigative journalists and go home to their families,” he said.
United States ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel called it “deeply troubling.”
“I think one has to ask will this process increase or decrease the confidence the people of Myanmar have in their justice system.”
Speaking to DVB after the verdict, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s defence team said they would do “everything possible” to free the pair, and noted they have 60 days to launch an appeal.