The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong deplores the guilty verdict against two Myanmar journalists with the Reuters news agency for conducting normal reporting activities, a decision that will have a chilling effect on the country’s embattled media.
A Myanmar court sentenced Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to seven years in jail on Monday for breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, a shockingly excessive punishment even by Myanmar’s long history of press prosecutions.
The verdict has wide-ranging ramifications for journalists in Myanmar at a time when press freedom is under attack across Asia. Reporters in Myanmar continue to face prosecution for public-interest reporting as well as pressure to self-censor, even under the elected civilian-led government of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who had been the country’s most famous political prisoner for many years.
Instead, her government has allowed this case to move forward, effectively sending a message that it doesn’t support free speech in Myanmar. We call on Aung San Suu Kyi and her administration to do everything it can to immediately release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, express its support for press freedom and ensure that journalists are able to work without threat of retaliation.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men who were buried in a mass grave at Inn Din village — an atrocity Myanmar’s own military has since admitted took place.
The two reporters, both fathers of young children, were called to a meeting with police who handed them documents. They were arrested almost immediately after leaving the meeting and prosecuted for receiving those documents in what even one of the police officers present testified in court was an operation to entrap the pair.
Both pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. Over the past six months, the FCC Hong Kong and other press organisations have repeatedly called for the charges to be dropped and for the two men to return home to their families. They were only doing their jobs, and had not committed any crime.
Everyone who believes in press freedom will be appalled by the verdict. Now is the time for citizens across the world to speak up for free speech, in Myanmar and elsewhere around the globe.
Make a difference today: FCC Hong Kong needs your help, please sign this petition – The Myanmar Government: Release Myanmar Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo
The Human Rights Press Awards are run by the FCC, Amnesty International Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association. The 22nd annual awards were held on May 12, 2018, in a ceremony at the FCC. Click here to find out who won.