Myanmar court sentences Reuters reporters to 7 years in jail

People march to show solidarity for jailed Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo two days before a local court is due to deliver verdict against them on charges of breaching the country's Official Secrets Act in Yangon, Myanmar, September 1, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 03 September 2018
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Myanmar court sentences Reuters reporters to 7 years in jail

  • The two journalists had been reporting last year on the brutal crackdown by security forces on the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state
  • The journalists testified they did not solicit or knowingly possess any secret documents

YANGON, Myanmar: A Myanmar court sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison Monday for illegal possession of official documents, a ruling that comes as international criticism mounts over the military’s alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They contended they were framed by police. The verdict was postponed from a week ago because the presiding judge was ill.
The case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how press freedom is suffering under the government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Her taking power in 2016 had raised hopes for an accelerated transition to full democracy from military rule, but she has since disappointed many former admirers.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, both testified they suffered from harsh treatment during their initial interrogations. Their several appeals for release on bail were rejected. Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to the couple’s first child in Yangon on Aug. 10, but Wa Lone has not yet seen his daughter.
The two journalists had been reporting last year on the brutal crackdown by security forces on the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the violence targeting them after attacks by Rohingya militants killed a dozen members of the security forces.
Investigators working for the UN’s top human rights body said last week that genocide charges should be brought against senior Myanmar military officers over the crackdown.
The accusation of genocide was rejected by Myanmar’s government, but is the most serious official recommendation for prosecution so far. Also last week, Facebook banned Myanmar’s powerful military chief and 19 other individuals and organizations from its site to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation in connection with the Rohingya crisis.
Dozens of journalists and pro-democracy activists marched Saturday in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, in support of the reporters. But in the country at large, with an overwhelming Buddhist majority, there is widespread prejudice against the Rohingya, and in the government and military, there is near-xenophobic sensitivity to foreign criticism.
Myanmar’s courts are one of the country’s most conservative and nationalistic institutions, and the darkened political atmosphere had seemed unlikely to help the reporters’ cause.
The court earlier this year declined to stop the trial after an initial phase of presentation of evidence, even though a policeman called as a prosecution witness testified that his commander had ordered that documents be planted on the journalists. After his testimony, the officer was jailed for a year for violating police regulations and his family was kicked out of police housing.
Other testimony by prosecution witnesses was contradictory, and the documents presented as evidence against the reporters appeared to be neither secret nor sensitive. The journalists testified they did not solicit or knowingly possess any secret documents.
“These two reporters should have never been put on trial in the first place because all they were doing was their jobs as journalists but apparently the government is more interested using this trial to intimidate the local media than anything else,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said last week.
“Eventually Myanmar is going to wake up and realize that these kind of politically driven prosecutions in a judicial system lacking both independence and competence are a major drag on the country’s political, social and economic development,” he said.
In the latest US expression of concern, Washington’s envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the Trump administration expected to see the two journalists acquitted of all charges.
Haley told the Security Council during a discussion of the Rohingya crisis last week that “a free and responsible press is critical for any democracy.”


US calls on Russia to destroy new missile system

Updated 54 min 12 sec ago
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US calls on Russia to destroy new missile system

GENEVA: The United States called on Russia on Monday to destroy a new cruise missile system which it said constituted a “direct violation” of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and accused Moscow of destabilising global security.
“Unfortunately, the United States increasingly finds that Russia cannot be trusted to comply with its arms control obligations and that its coercive and malign actions around the globe have increased tensions,” Robert Wood, US disarmament ambassador, told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament.
“Russia must verifiably destroy all SSC-8 missiles, launchers and associated equipment in order to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty,” he said, reiterating the Trump administration’s plan to withdraw from the 1987 pact in early February.