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Myanmar’s top court upholds jail terms for Reuters journalists

Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone (with cuffed raised hands) and Kyaw Soe Oo (spectacled) arrive at Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar, on August 27, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Myanmar’s top court has upheld seven-year jail sentences for two Reuters journalists who had been reporting the massacre of Rohingya Muslims by the country’s military and Buddhist mobs, despite a testimony by one police official that the two were set up.

“They were sentenced for seven years and this decision stands, and the appeal is rejected,” Supreme Court Justice Soe Naing said on Tuesday, without elaborating.

Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were arrested in December 2017. They were sentenced to seven years behind bars in September last year, being convicted of breaching a law on state secrets by allegedly obtaining confidential documents.

The Yangon High Court had rejected an earlier appeal in January.

The two have pleaded not guilty, telling the court that two police officers handed them papers at a restaurant moments before other officers appeared to arrest them. One of the two police officers has testified that the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists.

Defense lawyers had appealed to the Supreme Court citing evidence of the police set-up and lack of proof of a crime.

Commenting on the verdict, the United Nations (UN)’s resident coordinator in Myanmar, Knut Ostby, said he was disappointed.

“The United Nations will continue to call for full respect of freedom of the press and human rights,” he said in a statement after the verdict was announced. “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be allowed to return to their families and continue their work as journalists.”

When they were arrested, the reporters were working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine during an army crackdown that began in August that year.

The crackdown, described by the UN as genocide, forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

The investigation was completed by their colleagues and was published by Reuters in 2018, uncovering the involvement of security forces in killings, arson, and looting.

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