Lawyers for two Reuters journalists sentenced to seven years in prison in Myanmar for possession of official documents are appealing the verdict, the news agency said Monday.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been reporting on a military-led brutal crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority when they were arrested and charged with violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. They pleaded not guilty, saying they were framed by police.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape what U.N. officials and others charged was ethnic cleansing, or even genocide, by Myanmar security forces. The military denies the accusations.
“The appellate court will find many flaws with the verdict and sentence imposed by the trial judge,” a Reuters statement quoted Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer for the reporters, as saying. “It will finally provide Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo justice, declare their innocence, and make clear that journalism in Myanmar is not a crime.” The appeal was dated Friday.
Reuters President Stephen Adler said in the statement that the court’s ruling had ignored “compelling evidence of a police set-up, serious due process violations, and the prosecution’s failure to prove any of the key elements of the crime.”
“Now is the time for Myanmar to uphold its stated dedication to rule of law, freedom of the press, and democracy by ordering the release of our colleagues, whether on appeal or by granting the families’ request for a pardon,” Adler said.
The appeal says the court improperly “placed the burden of proof on Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, convicting them on the basis that they failed to prove their innocence.”
The case drew worldwide attention as an example of how democratic reforms in long-isolated Myanmar have stalled under the civilian government of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which took power in 2016. Suu Kyi’s rise after decades of military rule had raised hopes for an accelerated transition to full democracy, and her failure to end persecution of the Rohingya disappointed many former admirers.