POST TIME: 5 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Stark warning on press freedom: AI
International condemnation pours in

Stark warning on press freedom: AI

International condemnation pours in for the jailing of two Reuters journalists by a Myanmar court for ‘reporting on the atrocities by the military against Rohingya people in Rakhine state’. Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison on September 3 by a court in Yangon for breaching a law on state secrets, following their reporting on Rakhine State. The latest spate of atrocities by the Myanmar military that began at the end of August, 2017 forced more than 700,000 Rohingyas to cross into Cox’s Bazar. The Myanmar military has been accused of committing genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Two United Nations experts -- special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye and special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee -- strongly condemned the sentencing, describing it as a dark moment for Myanmar.

“This is yet another clear signal of Myanmar’s distancing from international human rights law. We regret that the court failed to recognise the importance of independent journalism, freedom of expression and the public’s right to know,” they said in a statement.

“We urge the president to pardon the journalists, and if the case is appealed, for the court to take into account Myanmar’s human rights obligations and order their release,” they added.

Amnesty International, the London-based global rights body, said that the guilty verdict against Reuters journalists sends stark warning on press freedom.

“Today’s appalling verdict has condemned two innocent men to years behind bars. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo face lengthy jail terms simply because they dared to ask uncomfortable questions about military atrocities in Rakhine State. These convictions must be quashed, and both men immediately and unconditionally released,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response.

“This politically-motivated decision has significant ramifications for press freedom in Myanmar. It sends a stark warning to other journalists in the country of the severe consequences that await should they look too closely at military abuses. This amounts to censorship through fear,” she said, adding that the verdict cannot conceal the truth of what happened in Rakhine State.

Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch called the conviction politically motivated, saying the charges heralds a return to the media repression seen during military rule.

“The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts’ willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government,” he said.

“Myanmar’s leadership should immediately quash the verdicts and release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” Adams said, adding, “These convictions won’t hide the horrors against the Rohingyas from the world – they merely reveal the precarious state of free speech in the country and the urgent need for international action to free these journalists.”