Several dozen people rallied in central Yangon yesterday against the jailing of two Reuters journalists, lamenting the shrinking space for free expression in Myanmar despite the advent of civilian rule. Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were sentenced two weeks ago to seven years behind bars under the Official Secrets Act.
The judgement sent shockwaves through the country’s nascent community of journalists because it echoed life under the former junta, when the press was heavily censored and reporters routinely jailed.
The ruling also sparked a global outcry against Myanmar’s army and against de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to speak up for the pair. “We are very angry. We are disappointed in the new government. Shame on them,” activist Maung Saung Kha, 25, told AFP.
“We condemn the sentence... they should be released.”
Protesters released black balloons emblazoned with photos of the two jailed reporters. “The image of the country has been hurt by the court decision,” protester Thin Zar Shun Lei Yi added. While journalists have rallied to the reporters’ cause – some using the hashtag #arrestmetoo – the general public has been apathetic in its response to the verdict.
The reporters were arrested in December while investigating the extra-judicial killing by security forces of 10 Rohingya men during last year’s military crackdown against the Muslim minority. The incident was later acknowledged by the army.
The UN says a campaign of widespread murder, rape and arson forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border into Bangladesh.
UN investigators say the violence merits the prosecution of top generals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Its rights arm is due to release the full findings of its investigation into the crackdown in coming days.
The reporters will appeal against the verdict but the process will likely take many months, if not years.
A presidential pardon is also a possibility.
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