Two Reuters journalists who covered human rights violations in Myanmar were sentenced to seven years in jail Monday, in what press freedom advocates have condemned as a sign of democratic “backsliding” in the country.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo — who were arrested in December after authoring an investigative report into mass killings of Rohingya at the hands of soldiers and Buddhists in Rhakine State — were found guilty of breaching an official secrets act.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Stephen Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief, said in a statement. “This is a major step backward in Myanmar’s transition to democracy, cannot be squared with the rule of law or freedom of speech.”
Both journalists pled not guilty and told the court that police officials planted confidential documents on them before their arrest, according to Reuters.
The court decision “undermines the freedom of the media, the public’s right to information and the development of the rule of law in Myanmar,” the European Union’s External Action Service said in a statement, calling on the government to review the prison sentences and release both journalists “immediately and unconditionally.”
The conviction “is the darkest signal for the future of the country,” Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, wrote on Twitter.
Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, Brad Adams, called on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure an “immediate pardon.”