Two Journalists Imprisoned in Myanmar

Reuters Journalists Under Arrest for Months Sentenced

Eli Quay, Staff Writer

Bridgewater, Va.- After being detained by the Myanmar government for over half a year, two Reuters journalists have been sentenced to seven years in jail. The journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were initially apprehended on Dec. 12, 2017 for being in violation of the Official Secrets Act by obtaining confidential government documents, an offense that could result in a maximum of 14 years in prison.

At the time of their arrests, the two journalists were investigating a military crackdown on the native Rohingya Muslim population involving human rights abuses. This crackdown was in response to attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents against security forces in the country.

Since the crackdown began, over 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh to violence at the hands of security forces.

As stated by a police witness, the journalists had met police officers in a restaurant as a set-up to detain the journalists and end their reporting on the killings of Rohingya muslims.

Similarly, the journalists testified in court that they were arrested shortly after being handed the government documents in question by police officials.

According to the Associated Press, the documents used in court as evidence against the journalists did not appear either secret or sensitive.

The arrests of the journalist, and their recent sentencing, have sparked an international response condemning the Myanmar government.

Such responses have accused the government under Nobel Peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader who many thought would lessen the military’s influence, of threatening democracy.

The Reuters editor-in-chief, Stephen J. Adler, stated that the charges against the journalists were “designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press.”

Investigators working for a United Nations human rights body have also argued that top military officials in the Myanmar government should be charged with genocide. Myanmar has since rejected the genocide accusation.

Much like the international community, the journalists feel the same. Lone has called the entire ordeal “unfair” and accused the government of “obviously threatening our democracy and destroying freedom of the press in our country.”

There has also been a push-back against Suu Kyi, with Pan Ei Mon, Lone’s wife, expressing her dissatisfaction with the respected leader’s stance that the arrests resulted from a violation of the Official Secrets Act and not from an attempt to prevent reporting on the massacres.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, threw in her support behind the two journalists. In a public statement, Haley highlighted the importance of the press in a free country and called for the immediate release of the journalists.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence echoed Haley’s words by tweeting that Lone and Soe Oo should be “commended–not imprisoned–for their work exposing human rights violations & mass killings.”

Additionally, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce advocated for an official genocide accusation and other sanctions against the Myanmar government.

While seemingly unlikely, it is possible for the journalists to change the verdict. According to Reuters, the case can be appealed to a regional court and then the country’s supreme court.