Burma Campaign UK today condemned the sentencing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and urged Aung San Suu Kyi to release them today, and to repeal all repressive laws, which are being used to keep journalists, human rights activists and others in jail for political reasons.
“The NLD-led government has the power to immediately order the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. “The only thing keeping Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in jail is Aung San Suu Kyi’s lack of respect for human rights.”
Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to 7 years in jail for researching a report which describes how security forces and local Rakhine Buddhists were involved in the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men buried in a mass grave in Rakhine state. After spending nearly 9 months in detention, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to 7 years in prison today.
They were arrested in Rangoon after being invited to meet police officials over dinner on 12th December 2017. The Ministry of Information said that they were “arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces”.
After their arrest, they were detained for two weeks at an undisclosed location and were not allowed to meet relatives or lawyers. They were charged under the Official Secrets Act and today they were sentenced to 7 years in jail.
The Official Secrets Act was introduced in 1923, during the colonial era, and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. The government has used the law against journalists in the past to prevent open reporting on government and military activities.
“The attempt by the military to cover up acts of genocide and the decision of the NLD-led government to support this and allow the prosecution to continue highlights many serious problems in Burma today,“ said Anna Roberts, Executive Director at Burma Campaign UK. “There is a climate of growing restrictions on media freedom, and Aung San Suu Kyi must now start facing international pressure over her decision to keep so many repressive laws in place and keep political prisoners in jail.”
Burma Campaign UK is also calling on the European Union to suspend its MyPol training programme with the military-controlled police force, which framed and arrested Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. As long as the police force is not accountable to the government and under the control of a military accused of genocide, it is hard to see how this can be an effective use of European taxpayers’ money.
Aside from the political implications of this case, this is a personal tragedy for the two journalists and their families, especially their young children. It is vindictive and an unforgivable cruelty for these children to be deprived of their fathers for doing their jobs well and reporting a truth that the government and military didn’t want revealed.