[Reuters journalist Wa Lone leaves after listening to the verdict at Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar, September 3, 2018. (Photo:REUTERS/Myat Thu Kyaw)]
London: Two Reuters journalists accused of breaching Myanmar's state secrets law during their reporting of a massacre of Rohingya Muslims were jailed for seven years Monday, drawing outrage over the attack on media freedom and calls for their immediate release.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who have been held in Yangon's Insein prison since their arrest in December, were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, a draconian British colonial-era law which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, according to news agency AFP.
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 security forces.
The two reporters had pleaded not guilty and told the court that police planted documents on them in the course of their work in reporting on Myanmar’s violence-plagued Rakhine State, according to Reuters.
Press freedom advocates, the United Nations, the European Union and countries including the United States, Canada and Australia had called for the journalists’ acquittal.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Reuters editor in chief Stephen J Adler said in a statement.
“We will not wait while Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo suffer this injustice and will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days, including whether to seek relief in an international forum.”
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.
As the judge spoke, several reporters cried while taking notes. Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, burst into tears after the verdict, and family members had to support her as she left the court.
Wa Lone shook hands with supporters, telling them not to worry. Wearing handcuffs and flanked by police, he addressed a cluster of friends and reporters.
“We know what we did. We know we did nothing wrong. I have no fear. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom,” he said.
Kyaw Soe Oo also said the reporters had committed no crime and that they would maintain their fight for press freedom.
“What I want to say to the government is: you can put us in jail, but do not close the eyes and ears of the people,” he said.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo - who both have young daughters and have not seen their families outside of prison visits and court hearings for nearly nine months - were then taken back to prison.
Kyaw Soe Oo has a three-year-old daughter and Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to their first child last month.
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