GENEVA/LONDON – New U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday she was “shocked” by Myanmar’s jailing of two Reuters journalists for seven years and called for their immediate release.
“I was shocked,” the former Chilean president told reporters on her first day as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. “The trial was a travesty of justice.”
“I urge Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release Kyaw Soe Oo and Thet Oo Maung,” she said in a statement.
Wa Lone, 32, who has used the alias Thet Oo Maung, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who have been held in Yangon’s Insein prison since their arrest in December, were charged with breaching Myanmar’s state secrets law while reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims.
The case has sparked an outcry among the international community as an attempt to muzzle reporting on last year’s crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces on the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.
Army-led “clearance operations” drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities — rape, murder and arson — by Myanmar police and troops.
The reporters denied the charges, insisting they were set up while exposing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine village of Inn Din in September last year.
“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 said.
“It sends a message to all journalists in Myanmar that they cannot operate fearlessly, but must rather make a choice to either self-censor or risk prosecution.
“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.”
Britain also called for the “immediate” release of the two journalists jailed in Myanmar on Monday, saying 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,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May.
Mark Field, Britain’s Minister for Asia and the Pacific, “said he was “extremely disappointed” by the verdict, calling it a “bad day” for Myanmar.
“They provided valuable reporting on abhorrent human rights violations in Rakhine state, and I have consistently called for their immediate release, including directly with the Burmese government,” he said in a statement.
“Journalists must be free to carry out their jobs without fear or intimidation,” he added.