Myanmar court rejects jailed Reuters reporters’ appeal

Journalist Wa Lone, center, is escorted by police after being sentenced on September 3, 2018. Wa Lone and fellow Reuters reporter Kyaw Soe Oo’s appeal on the landmark case were denied by a Myanmar court. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019

Myanmar court rejects jailed Reuters reporters’ appeal

  • Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted in September in a landmark case hat has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy
  • The defense has the option of making a further appeal to the country’s supreme court

YANGON: A Myanmar court on Friday rejected the appeal of two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act, saying the defense had not provided sufficient evidence to show they were innocent.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted by a lower court in September in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.

“It was a suitable punishment,” said High Court Judge Aung Naing, referring to the seven-year prison term meted out by the lower court.

The defense has the option of making a further appeal to the country’s supreme court, based in the capital Naypyitaw.

“Today’s ruling is yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They remain behind bars for one reason: those in power sought to silence the truth,” said Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler in a statement.

“Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar’s commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt.”

In their appeal arguments made last month, defense lawyers had cited evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime. They told the appeal court the lower court that tried the case had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the defendants.

The defense also said prosecutors had failed to prove the reporters gathered and collected secret information, sent information to an enemy of Myanmar or that they had an intention to harm national security.

The judge said the defendants did not follow journalistic ethics and that the court could not determine whether the arrest of the reporters was a trap.

Khine Khine Soe, a legal officer representing the government, told the appeal hearing that the evidence showed the reporters had collected and kept confidential documents. He said they intended to harm national security and the national interest.

Before their arrest, the reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.

The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to United Nations’ estimates.


Rappler journalist Ressa launches defense in Philippine libel case

Updated 16 December 2019

Rappler journalist Ressa launches defense in Philippine libel case

  • Rappler has written extensively and often critically on President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies
  • Maria Ressa, named a Time Person of the Year in 2018 for her journalism, did not testify in court

MANILA: Philippine journalist Maria Ressa said Monday she would not be silenced as she launched her defense against a libel charge that press advocates call an attempt to curb her news site’s critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Her site Rappler has written extensively and often critically on Duterte’s policies, including his deadly drugs war that rights groups say may amount to crimes against humanity.
“I can go to jail for 12 years for this (case), that is the maximum sentence,” she told reporters outside court after the hearing, noting government investigators had initially dismissed the case.
“From track record you can see the political goals to shut Rappler up ... but we haven’t shut up yet,” said Ressa, who is free on bail.
Besides the libel case, Ressa and Rappler have been hit with a string of criminal charges in the span of roughly a year, prompting allegations that authorities are targeting her and her team for their work.
Ressa, named a Time Person of the Year in 2018 for her journalism, did not testify in court.
The case centers on a Rappler report from 2012 about a businessman’s alleged ties to a then-judge of the nation’s top court.
Government investigators initially dismissed the businessman’s 2017 complaint about the article, but state prosecutors later decided to file charges.
The legal underpinning of the charge is a controversial “cybercrime law” aimed at online offenses ranging from hacking and Internet fraud to child pornography.
In court on Monday, Ressa’s defense team highlighted investigators’ initial decision not to pursue the case, and her insulation from Rappler’s daily news decisions.
“As an executive editor, she does not really edit,” Chay Hofilena, a Rappler investigative journalist, told the court.
The government has repeatedly said the case has nothing to do with politics, adding that no one is above the law.
However, Duterte has in speeches lashed out at Rappler and other critical media outfits, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and broadcaster ABS-CBN.
He threatened to go after their owners over alleged unpaid taxes or block the network’s franchise renewal application.
Rights monitor Reporters Without Borders ranked the Philippines at 134 out of 178 countries on its annual “World Press Freedom” index this year, when at least three journalists were killed “most likely by agents working for local politicians.”