YANGON – A Myanmar court is on Monday due to hear an argument in the appeal of two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were found guilty in September after a trial at a Yangon district court in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.
Defense lawyers filed an appeal against the conviction in early November, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime.
“We are looking forward to demonstrating to Myanmar’s High Court why it should reverse the convictions of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo due to the egregious errors committed by the trial court in condemning them to prison for seven years,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement.
“We will explain to the appellate judge why, under the law, the only possible conclusion is that the appellate court must restore our reporters’ freedom and reaffirm Myanmar’s democratic principles,” he said.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in September that the jailing of the reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression.
In comments made the week after their conviction, she said they had been sentenced for handling official secrets and “were not jailed because they were journalists.”
Before their arrest, the reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August last year.
The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to U.N. estimates.
During eight months of hearings, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified that two policemen they had not met before handed them papers rolled up in a newspaper during a meeting at a Yangon restaurant on Dec. 12, 2017.
Almost immediately afterwards, they said, they were bundled into a car by plainclothes officers and taken into detention.