The Irish Times view on press freedom in Myanmar: outrageous and wrong

The jailing of two journalists shows that the rule of law is under grave threat

Chit Suu Win, wife of Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, reacts after listening to the the verdict at Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar on Monday. Photograph: Myo Kyaw Soe/Reuters

Chit Suu Win, wife of Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, reacts after listening to the the verdict at Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar on Monday. Photograph: Myo Kyaw Soe/Reuters

 

The jailing of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar is an outrageous attack on press freedom and another sign that the rule of law in the country is under grave threat.

At the time of their arrest last December, Wa Lone (32) and Kyaw Soe Oo (28) were investigating the killing of 10 Muslim Rohingya at the hands of Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Inn Din, a village in the north of Rakhine state.

Prosecutors accused the men of breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act by obtaining sensitive state documents. But the journalists said they were framed by police, who invited them to dinner and handed over the documents minutes before they were arrested. 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. “We know we did nothing wrong,” Wa Lone said after the seven-year sentence was handed down. “I have no fear.”

Aung San Suu Kyi's disgraceful behaviour has left her discredited and in time could result in international sanctions

The verdicts were swiftly condemned by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. The UK’s ambassador in Yangon, said the judge apperaed to have ignored evidence and to have ignored Myanmar law.

PRESS CLAMPDOWN: Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo (both in white shirts) leave Insein court after being jailed for seven years in Yangon, Myanmar, for illegal possession of official documents. They had been attempting to report on an alleged massacre of Rohingya Muslims by members of the Myanmar military. Photograph: Reuters
PRESS CLAMPDOWN: Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo (both in white shirts) leave Insein court after being jailed for seven years in Yangon, Myanmar, for illegal possession of official documents. They had been attempting to report on an alleged massacre of Rohingya Muslims by members of the Myanmar military. Photograph: Reuters

The court’s decision comes at a time of intense scrutiny of the country. A United Nations fact-finding mission said last week that Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and called for top generals to be prosecuted. More than 700,000 stateless Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh since that military campaign, according to UN agencies.

UN investigators said on Monday that Myanmar’s army had carried out genocide against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
UN investigators have said Myanmar’s army carried out genocide against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. File photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Last week’s shocking report was greeted with continuing silence from Myanmar’s de facto leader, the Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Her disgraceful behaviour has left her discredited and in time could result in international sanctions. In her previous incarnation as a voice of moral indignation, Suu Kyi would have stated the obvious: Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been jailed for getting too close to the truth. They must be released immediately. And those who run the regime that jailed them must be held to account.

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