Myanmar journalists: UN calls for immediate release of jailed Reuters journalists


Updated

September 04, 2018 06:59:56

Days after taking on the job, new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says she is “shocked” at the seven-year prison sentences handed down to two Reuters journalists in Myanmar, calling the trial a “travesty of justice” and urging their immediate release.

Key points:

  • Ms Bachelet says journalists were working in public interest
  • US, Germany and others join in condemning the verdict
  • Reuters chief says he hopes the verdict won’t intimidate other journalists

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted and sentenced on Monday for violating a colonial-era law on charges of illegally possessing official documents.

The journalists, who were reporting on a brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims and uncovered a massacre of 10 men by security forces, testified that they did not solicit or knowingly possess any secret documents.

The verdict came amid mounting pressure on the government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi over a security crackdown sparked by attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on security forces in Rakhine State in west Myanmar in August 2017.

More than 700,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims have fled into Bangladesh since then, according to UN agencies.

Ms Bachelet, who took on the UN’s top human rights role on September 1, said that she believed the reporters were working in the public interest in reporting on the massacre of Rohingya people.

“So I will urge the Myanmar Government to release them as soon as possible, immediately,” the former Chilean president said.

“I was shocked today in the morning, when I woke up and learned that these two journalists from Reuters have been imposed a sentence of seven years of jail.”

The European Union also called for the unconditional release of the journalists and countries around the world joined the two groups in condemning the decision.

In a statement, the US Embassy in Yangon said the conviction was “deeply troubling for all who support press freedom and the transition toward democracy”, calling for the pair’s immediate release.

“The clear flaws in this case raise serious concerns about rule of law and judicial independence in Myanmar, and the reporters’ conviction is a major setback to the Government of Myanmar’s stated goal of expanding democratic freedoms.”

France said it deplored the prison sentences and that the convictions represented a serious violation of press freedom and the rule of law.

Marianne Hagen, deputy foreign minister of Norway, whose state-controlled firm Telenor is the second largest mobile phone operator in Myanmar, urged the authorities to “protect freedom of the press, respect basic human rights and secure journalists’ rights in the court system”.

In Bangladesh, Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, a media adviser to the prime minister, said it was “an open secret” that anyone exposing “atrocities of the Myanmar army” would be persecuted.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas said he was dismayed by the verdict, while Britain’s ambassador to Cambodia Dan Chugg said it undermined media freedom in Myanmar.

Journalists can’t be intimidated from reporting: Reuters chief

Mr Chugg, who was in court for Monday’s verdict, said the case “struck a hammer-blow to the rule of law in Myanmar” and that diplomats who attended the trial believe the judges ignored evidence and Myanmar’s laws.

The reporters had told the court two police officials handed them papers at a restaurant in the city of Yangon moments before other officers arrested them.

One police witness testified the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists to block or punish them for their reporting of a mass killing of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.

Speaking to ABC’s The World, Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said he was “extraordinarily disappointed” by the decision and that the organisation wanted to “set an example” that supressing free speech will not be tolerated.

“We think that it’s very important that this type of event does not intimidate journalists from reporting,” Mr Adler told the World.

“We just had two wonderful reporters reporting on a massacre in a village in Rakhine State and they were reporting with integrity … and they were arrested to block them from publishing a story that was incredibly important to the world.”

He added that while they were disappointed with the decision, the two men were coping well, keeping high spirits and that everyone involved was thankful for the strong international support in pressuring the Myanmar Government for their release.

“If Myanmar are going to be on the path to democracy and that will be credible to anybody in the world, this case is a test case for due process and freedom of speech,” Mr Adler said.

“So I would really encourage the Government to think hard about the possibility of intervening at this point.”

He said Reuters was considering all its options in assisting the two jailed reporters.

ABC/wires

Topics:

law-crime-and-justice,

courts-and-trials,

journalism,

world-politics,

corruption,

burma,

asia

First posted

September 04, 2018 06:57:22



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