Yangon: Families, friends and colleagues of two Reuters journalists, imprisoned in Myanmar, on Wednesday called for their immediate release one year on from their arrest.
Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were on Tuesday honoured among other persecuted or killed journalists as “Time magazine’s Person of the Year”.
The pair was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly compromising state secrets, while investigating a story on the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state. The case has been widely seen as a test of press freedom in Myanmar.
“A year ago, Reuters reporters… were arrested in a setup by the police, intended to interfere with the reporting on a massacre in Myanmar,” the news agency’s Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler was quoted as saying by Efe news.
“The fact that they remain in prison for a crime they did not commit calls into question Myanmar’s commitment to democracy, freedom of expression and rule of law,” he said.
Supporters of the pair planned to gather in central Yangon on Wednesday evening, while people from around the world posted photos on social media of the “thumbs up” gesture that became a symbol of the pair’s court appearances, the BBC reported.
On December 24, the two will appear for an appeal hearing against their seven-year jail term that was handed out by a Yangon court in September for violating the archaic Official Secrets Act.
“For 12 long months, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been torn apart from their wives and baby daughters — simply because they reported the news. These journalists exposed mass murder and should be applauded for their public service, not imprisoned for it,” said Amal Clooney, Barrister and Counsel to the Reuters journalists.
The pair was arrested on December 12, 2017 for possessing confidential documents, which they claimed were given to them by two police officials with whom they had met during the reporting of the story.
The reporters were investigating a mass grave of 10 Rohingyas in a village in Rakhine state during a military operation in August 2017 in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya rebels on government posts in the region.
The investigation had subsequently led to the conviction of seven Burmese soldiers to 10 years in prison, the only crime to have been recognized by the Myanmar authorities since the military offensive began in Rakhine leading to the exodus of over 723,000 members of the mostly-Muslim minority community to neighbouring Bangladesh.
The government and the military deny the UN special commission’s report that claimed the military campaign to be intentional genocide.