Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo jailed for seven years for breaching country’s Official Secrets Act

The two Reuters journalists imprisoned in Myanmar for their reporting on the violence against the Rohingya in Rahkine state have lost their appeal, with the court upholding their guilty verdict and lengthy prison sentences.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had each been handed prison sentences of seven years in September after they were found guilty of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act after it was claimed they were in possession of classified documents.

The trial of the pair was widely criticised, with human rights groups and international governments accusing the Myanmar regime of using the courts to target the two reporters for their reporting on the military-led massacre of Rohingya muslims in the village of Inn Din in Rahkine.

Both Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are both Burmese, have continued to stress their innocence, alleging they were handed classified documents, which was used as evidence they had breached secrecy laws, without their knowledge in a police set-up.

The appeal against the verdict, which was filed in November, argued that “compelling evidence” of the arrest being a set-up by the police, as well as violations in due process and key holes in the prosecution’s case, had been ignored.

However, in a further blow to freedom of expression in Myanmar, on Friday afternoon a judge at the high court in Yangon rejected the appeal and upheld their guilty verdict. The judge described the seven year jail sentence as a “suitable ruling”.

Stephen J Adler, the editor-in-chief of Reuters, said the rejection of the appeal was “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 Adler. “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.”

A statement issued by the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, Maja Kocijancic, said the appeal rejection was a “missed opportunity to right a wrong” adding that the ruling “casts serious doubt over the independence of Myanmar’s justice system.”

The appeal was also condemned by Amnesty International, who said the ruling “perpetuates an appalling injustice” while the chief executive of PEN America, Suzanne Nossel, said that “yet again Myanmar’s justice system has turned its backs on the principles of rule of law and respect for rights that are the litmus test of democracy”.

Since they were jailed in September, there has been a groundswell of supportfor Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo internationally, with the pair handed awards for their journalism. They were also among the persecuted journalists named as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2018.

However, within Myanmar, where there is little sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya, condemnation of the jailing of the journalists has been more muted. The Myanmar state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who was once a leading human rights advocate, has resisted calls to pardon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the most recent of which came from the US vice-president, Mike Pence, during a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in November.

The conviction could still be appealed in Myanmar’s Supreme Court, the highest court of appeal in the country.