United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Monday said she was shocked by Myanmar’s decision to sentence two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison, AFP reported. The former Chilean president called for the immediate release of the two reporters.
A court in Myanmar convicted two journalists for breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act, 1923 earlier on Monday. “The trial was a travesty of justice,” Bachelet told reporters on her first day as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “I urge Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release Kyaw Soe Oo and Thet Oo Maung.”
The journalists had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state’s Inn Din village during an Army crackdown in 2017. The two were arrested after they were invited to meet police officers for dinner in the north of Yangon. The Ministry of Information claimed they had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”.
“Their coverage of the Inn Din massacre by the military – for which the military subsequently admitted responsibility – was clearly in the public interest as it may otherwise never have come to light,” Bachelet said. “Their conviction follows a legal process that clearly breached international standards.”
She added that the court’s verdict sent a message to journalists that they cannot operate in Myanmar fearlessly. “I call for their conviction to be quashed and for them to be released, along with all other journalists currently in detention for their legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” she said.
The United Kingdom also said the verdict had undermined freedom of the media. “We are extremely disappointed with this verdict and sentencing and we call for the journalists to be released immediately,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said, according to AFP.
In July, a court charged the two reporters with breaching the colonial-era law that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. Both the journalists have been in jail since December. In April, the court refused to dismiss the case saying there was a “proper reason” for the charges against the journalists.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and press freedom anywhere,” said Reuters Editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, according to BBC.