In a shocking decision handed down this morning in Yangon, the high court also upheld their convictions on charges of violating the Official Secrets Act. It concluded the utterly iniquitous judicial process to which these two journalists have been subjected ever since their arrest in a trap set by the police in December 2017.
“Everything about this case, both the substance and its conduct, called for their convictions to be overturned, but Myanmar’s justice system has shown its determination until the very end to punish Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo although they just did their job as reporters,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“This decision constitutes yet further evidence, if any were needed, of the judicial system’s unacceptable manipulation by the executive and dramatically signifies the end of Myanmar’s democratic transition. We now call on its highest political officials to pardon these journalists as quickly as possible so that they can be reunited with their families.”
President Win Myint, who is an ally of government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has the power to issue pardons, which are traditionally given at the time of the Burmese New Year in April. Regardless of the final outcome, the authorities have already sent a chilling message to Myanmar’s journalists: that this is the price you will pay if you dare to investigate subjects that are off limits.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did some remarkable investigative reporting on a massacre of Rohingya civilians by soldiers in Inn Din, a village in the north of Rakhine state, that that was widely seen as an act of genocide or ethnic cleansing. Their arrest was regarded as a punishment orchestrated by the security forces.
The region where the massacre took place, the traditional home of Myanmar’s Rohingya community, continues to be completely inaccessible to journalists aside from those who have been taken there on pathetic propaganda visits that are tightly controlled by the authorities.
RSF issued an “incident report” in October about the threat to Myanmar’s position in the World Press Freedom Index resulting from the deterioration in “environment and self-censorship,” “transparency” and “media independence” – three of the seven indicators used to determine a country’s ranking. Myanmar is currently ranked 137th out of 180 countries.