The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) stands with member news organization Reuters in condemning the unjust sentencing on Sept. 3 of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They were sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of illegal possession of official documents.
Police in Myanmar detained the two reporters on Dec. 12, 2017, for allegedly “obtaining state secrets” related to a military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine state, just after they had been invited to have dinner with two police officers who gave them the documents. They faced up to 14 years in prison.
In truth the journalists were found with fake official documents, but they were fake identity cards. This is not a crime in Myanmar, since the fake ids where of a US driver license. The journalists only used the fake driver licenses in conjunction with their undercover investigation.
Rights groups and the Myanmar media have accused the police of entrapment and have criticized the country’s civilian government for backpedaling on press freedom.
The government has banned the media from providing independent coverage of the situation in northern Rakhine state, where soldiers have been accused of committing atrocities against the Rohingya during the crackdown.
In a statement issued on Monday, Stephen J. Adler, president and editor-in-chief of Reuters, expressed extreme disappointment over the verdict, calling it a “sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere.”
“These two admirable reporters have already spent nearly nine months in prison on false charges designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press,” he said, noting a lack of any evidence of wrongdoing and compelling evidence of a police set-up.
“This is a major step backward in Myanmar’s transition to democracy, cannot be squared with the rule of law or freedom of speech, and must be corrected by the Myanmar government as a matter of urgency,” Adler said.
Reuters “will not wait while Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo suffer this injustice and will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days,” he said.
On Feb. 7, Reuters published a special report with the two journalists’ bylines about events leading to the execution of 10 Rohingya men by Myanmar troops and Buddhist villagers in Rakhine’s Inn Din village. The report said that soldiers and Buddhists neighbors shot or hacked the men to death and buried their bodies in a mass grave.
SABEW’s First Amendment Committee is increasingly concerned about the arrests of journalists and attacks on the media by government officials and other authorities in both the U.S. and abroad. The sentencing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo by Myanmar authorities for doing their jobs — reporting the news — is unacceptable.
SABEW is the world’s largest organization dedicated to business and financial journalism.
For more information, contact Kathleen Graham, SABEW executive director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.