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Myanmar upholds jail sentence for Reuters reporters

This file photo taken on September 3, 2018, shows Myanmar journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, center, escorted by police after being sentenced by a court to jail in Yangon. (AFP)

Myanmar’s High Court has upheld a seven-year jail term against two Reuters journalists for breaking the Official Secrets Act, while reporting on the killing of Rohingya Muslims by the military in Rakhine state.

In September, Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were sentenced to seven years behind bars after being convicted of breaching a law on state secrets when they collected and obtained confidential documents.

The two have pleaded not guilty. They once told the court that two police officials had handed them papers at a restaurant moments before other officers arrested them. One police officer had also testified that the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists.

On Friday, High Court Judge Aung Naing described the prison sentence handed down by the lower court as “a suitable punishment."

"Action can be taken against them if, judging by their behavior and characteristics, it appears they will harm the national security and interests of the country," he said, adding that the defense had failed to prove the arrests were a set-up by authorities.

At the appeal hearings held last month, defense lawyers cited evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime. They emphasized that the lower court had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the defendants.

Speaking after the ruling, defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said his team would discuss the option of making a further appeal to the supreme court with the two reporters, adding that "We are very disappointed with the judgment."

Commenting on the verdict, Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said, "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."

"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," he said in a statement.

The European Union's ambassador to Myanmar, Kristian Schmidt, also denounced the ruling as a "miscarriage of justice and it gives us great concern for the independence of the justice system of Myanmar."

"I lost all my hope," a weeping Chit Su Win, the wife of reporter Kyaw Soe Oo, said after the ruling.

The journalists were detained in December 2017 after reporting on the killings of 10 Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military in the northwestern state of Rakhine during an army crackdown that began in August that year, which has forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

The UN has called the clampdown campaign, which has seen random killings, gang rapes and arson attacks, as the “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

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