09/04/2018, 16.18
MYANMAR
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Activists and international community call for the release of convicted journalists

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating the killing of ten Rohingya. Now they have to serve a seven-year prison sentence for possession of “secret documents”. The controversial ruling represents a blow to the country’s legal system, to freedom of the press and to its democratic transition.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – After expressing their disappointment at the seven-year prison sentence inflicted on two Reuters reporters, journalists, human rights activists and the international community have demander their immediate release.

According to critics, the controversial ruling represents a major blow to the country’s legal system, to freedom of the press and to its democratic transition.

Since the arrest of the two journalists, many observers – including some MPs and members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi – believe the whole thing was a police set-up.

In particular, U Win Htein, a leading NLD politician, expressed doubts, later confirmed by a witness during the trial: Wa Lone (32) and Kyaw Soe Oo (28) were enticed by agents who offered them "secret documents" before their arrest.

Police also said that they found information on the defendants’ phones about Pope Francis’s apostolic visit to the country last year (27-30 November 2017), including details about security arrangements.

Defence attorney Ko Than Zaw Aung describe the verdict as "disappointing. This shows the critical situation facing democracy, freedom of expression and the rule of law in Myanmar, which is said to be undergoing democratisation.”

For Aye Win, a former correspondent for the Associated Press, the sentence “will have a very negative impact upon the dignity of the government.’ Which does not seem “to consider [press freedom] as [a] builder of democracy. This is the complete reverse of democratisation. It is very disappointing.”

In the same vein, Deputy Information Minister U Aung Hla Tun said he feels “a little sorry for them, as I once worked as a journalist. But there is still hope for them. This is not the end. They still have a chance according to the law. They can appeal to the higher courts. I pray for them. That’s all I can say.”

At the same time, he acknowledges that “There are laws that restrict press freedom”, which “have been in force for years,” and which “are being reviewed now. On the other hand, journalists have to follow ethics. This is very important. And they must also have professional skills.”

For some experts, the legal system is also at fault. According to U Sein Wn, training director ay the Myanmar Journalism Institute, the former "is severely paralysed. The message of the verdict is that, ‘You should not seek the truth’.”

Sadly, “This indicates that democracy is doomed and there is no press freedom in Myanmar,” noted Ko Thalun Zaung Htet, a Myanmar Press Council member-elect. “The NLD [National League for Democracy] has become authoritarian. Soon, we journalists will take to the streets.”

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