12 Jan 2019

Myanmar court turns down appeal by Reuters journalists

8:00 pm on 12 January 2019

A court in Myanmar has rejected an appeal by two Reuters reporters jailed for breaking a state secrets act.

Chit Su Win (L) and Panei Mon (R) wife of jailed Myanmar journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone leave the high court in Yangon on January 11, 2019. AFP

Chit Su Win, left, and Panei Mon leave the High Court in Yangon after their husbands' unsuccessful appeal against their jail terms. Photo: AFP

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in September in a case condemned around the world.

They exposed the summary execution of 10 Muslim Rohingyas by the security forces during the military's anti-Rohingya operation in 2017.

But the judge called their terms "suitable punishment" and said the defence had not proved their innocence.

Both were arrested carrying official documents handed to them by police officers. They maintain their innocence, saying the authorities set them up.

Than Zaw Aung (C), lawyer of jailed Myanmar journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo speaks to journalists  in Yangon on January 11, 2018.  AFP

Than Zaw Aung, centre, speaks to media outside the High Court in Yangon. Photo: AFP

When arrested the two were investigating a mass execution of Rohingyas, hundreds of thousands of whom have been forced to flee destruction and persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar (also called Burma).

United Nations investigators have called for top Myanmar generals to be investigated for genocide, and criticised the country's de facto leader Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to stop the attacks.

The massacre the reporters were investigating is the only one the Burmese government has admitted. Myanmar's military - which says its operations targeted militant or insurgent threats - had until then insisted its soldiers carried out no unlawful killings.

Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler called the court's rejection "yet another injustice" against the pair.

"Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free," he said in a statement.

The reporters can now appeal to the country's Supreme Court, which could take about six months.

Both men have been in prison for more than a year.

Journalists' report leads to conviction of seven soldiers over murders

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are Myanmar citizens who were working for the international news agency.

They had been collecting evidence about the murders of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine in September 2017.

They were arrested before the report's publication, after being handed some documents by two policemen who they had met at a restaurant for the first time.

A police witness testified during the trial that the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists.

The final report - a collaboration with other colleagues - was considered extraordinary, because it gathered testimonies from a range of participants, including Buddhist villagers who confessed to killing Rohingya Muslims and torching their homes. Accounts from paramilitary police also directly implicated the military.

The military had previously released its own investigation into allegations of abuse in Rakhine, and exonerated itself of all wrongdoing, despite large amounts of testimony from Rohingya refugees describing widespread atrocities.

Authorities later launched their own probe into the Inn Din killings, confirming the massacre took place and promising to take action against those who had taken part.

Seven soldiers were sentenced to prison for their involvement in the killings. The military said the soldiers would serve 10 years with hard labour for "contributing and participating in murder".