Reuters Reporters Jailed For 7 Years In Landmark Myanmar Secrets Case

Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo departs Insein court after his verdict announcement in Yangon Myanmar on Monday. Ann Wang Reuters

On Monday, a Myanmar court sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years of prison for illegal possession of state secrets.

The Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested and detained in December over accusations that they possessed secret official files but they maintained that they had been framed.

They were charged with a violation of the Officials Secrets Act, a colonial-era law that press watchdogs say has been used to muzzle independent reporting, and carries a maximum of 14 years in jail.

"We want the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo", journalist Hlin Thit Zin Wai told AFP.

Myanmar journalists stand in front of a police vehicle transporting Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to Insein prison after the court verdict in Yangon, Myanmar, September 3, 2018.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the sentencing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, saying it marked a "new low for Myanmar".

"We call for the journalists to be released immediately".

Kyaw Soe Oo said that while being investigated he was deprived of sleep, forced to kneel for hours and had a black hood placed over his head.

"I have no fear", Wa Lone, one of the two journalists, said after the verdict.

The case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how press freedom is suffering under the government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. "I believe in justice, democracy and freedom", he said.

The reporters were arrested on December 12 after being invited to meet with police officials at a restaurant in Yangon, where they were handed rolled-up papers allegedly linked to the security force operations in Rakhine State.

The army has published its version of events at Inn Din village, conceding the Rohingya men were killed while in custody but saying it was a one-off case of abuse by a mixture of security forces and ethnic Rakhine locals.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said the 7-year sentence "for reporting the truth is what we expect from dictatorships".

British ambassador Dan Chugg told reporters outside the court, "the verdict today has struck a hammer-blow to the rule of law in Myanmar".

The case has sparked an outcry among the worldwide community as an attempt to muzzle reporting on last year's crackdown by Myanmar's security forces on the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.

Investigators working for the UN's top human rights body said last week that genocide charges should be brought against senior Myanmar military officers over the crackdown.

The verdict comes a year after the crisis in Rakhine state came to a head when a Rohingya militant group attacked several police posts.

U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby said the U.N. was "disappointed by today's court decision".

The Rakhine crisis has damaged Ms Suu Kyi's and Myanmar's global standing at a time when the fledgling civilian government is struggling to work around a military-crafted Constitution which grants the military control over the key ministries overseeing defence, home affairs and border affairs.

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