US condemns verdict handed down to journalists in Myanmar
Reuters journalists freed in Myanmar – BBC Newsnight
Wa Lone and Zhuo Soo Oh sentenced to seven years in prison for violating state secrets laws
The US harshly condemned the verdict handed down on Monday to two Reuters reporters in Myanmar, saying it calls «deep concern» and represents «big step back» for the country in its movement towards democratic reforms.
Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations, said she would «continue to insist on their prompt and unconditional release». She added that the verdict on journalists is «another macabre stain on the government of Myanmar».
The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar stated that «serious flaws» in the case of journalists Wa Lone and Zhuo Soo Oh, who were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating state secrets laws, «cause serious concern about the rule of law and the independence of the courts in Myanmar».
US Ambassador Scott Marciel in an interview «Voice of America» noted that the verdict – sad news not only for journalists and their families, but also «for people who have worked hard to promote media freedom in the country». «It is worth asking whether this process will increase or decrease the confidence of the people of Myanmar in their judicial system., – he said. – It is up to the citizens of Myanmar to assess this».
Wa Lone and Zhuo Soo Oh were arrested last December after meeting with two police officers at a restaurant in Yangon, who handed them a sheaf of documents. They were accused of violating the Secret Information Act, enacted in 1923, when Myanmar was called Burma and was under British colonial rule. Both journalists denied asking for documents..
After the verdict was passed, the handcuffed journalists were taken out of the courtroom, where they had a short talk with the journalists, after which they were taken away in a police car. Demonstrators blocked the car’s path for a while.
Journalists have covered a brutal military campaign in Rakhine State that has resulted in some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing across the border into neighboring Bangladesh since last August. They became interested in the story of the killing of ten Rohingya by police and soldiers in Ying Din village..
The reaction of the world community
The arrests of Wa Lone and Zhuo Soo Oh sparked international outrage among free speech advocates and human rights defenders, who viewed their case as the first real test of free speech in Myanmar, which transitioned to democracy in 2016 after decades of repressive military rule..
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for the immediate release of journalists.
«The verdict was delivered following a legal process that apparently violated international standards, – Bachelet said in a statement. – This demonstrates to all journalists in Myanmar that they cannot work without fear, but must choose between self-censorship and the risk of being prosecuted.».
Embassy of the USA called on the Myanmar authorities to immediately release the journalists and «stop unjustified harassment of journalists doing their job».
«The American people have long stood with the people of Myanmar in support of democracy, and we will continue to support civil rule and those who fight for freedom, reform and human rights in Myanmar.», – said in a statement from the embassy.
British Ambassador Dan Chugg, who was present at the court session, stated: «On behalf of the British government and EU member states, I declare that we are extremely disappointed with this verdict. The case cast a shadow over freedom of speech and the rule of law in Myanmar».
He added that «in any democracy, journalists should be able to do their job without fear and intimidation». «This verdict undermines media freedom in Myanmar. He also dealt a heavy blow to the rule of law. We were present in the courtroom throughout the process and believe that the judge ignored the evidence presented to him and made a decision contrary to Myanmar’s own laws. It is a sad day for Myanmar and we call for the immediate release of journalists».
Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler condemned the verdict, calling it «sad day for Myanmar», two journalists «and press all over the world», stating that the Myanmar authorities must remedy the situation «urgently». According to Adler, the judge’s decision became «big step back in Myanmar’s transition to democracy [and] cannot be combined with the rule of law or free speech».
Crisis Response Director Amnesty International Tirana Hassan stated: «Today’s outrageous verdict has doomed two innocent men to years in prison. This politically motivated decision will have serious implications for press freedom in Myanmar. This is a stern warning to other journalists in the country about the dire consequences that will await them if they look too closely at military violations. It equates to censorship through intimidation.».
UN coordinator on humanitarian issues in Myanmar, Knut Ostby said that the organization «disappointed» court decision.
Human rights organization Freedom House issued a statement condemning the verdict. «By sending journalists to jail for doing their job, the government of Myanmar is taking a stalemate in trying to suppress the facts and avoid responsibility for their own actions., – said the president of the organization, Michael J. Abramovitz. – Criminalizing fact-based journalism – a tactic by authoritarian leaders around the world that emphasizes the importance of a free, lively press and citizens who can both learn and discuss the news freely. The harsh sentences handed down to Wa Lone and Jo So Woo will not undo the work they have done to cover the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State».
The organization notes that in 2018, Myanmar received the status of a country with «partially free» press, and in 2017 – countries with a non-free press and a non-free internet