Myanmar won’t free the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who uncovered a massacre

Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo, and Wa Lone, behind, in August 2018.
Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo, and Wa Lone, behind, in August 2018.
Image: Reuters/Ann Wang
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Myanmar’s Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of two Reuters journalists who were sentenced last September to seven years in prison as they investigated the military’s violent crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, in a case seen as a symbol of the country’s faltering democratization.

“They were sentenced for seven years and this decision stands, and the appeal is rejected,” Supreme Court justice Soe Naing told a court in the capital, Naypyitaw, according to Reuters.

Earlier this month, the two journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and their colleagues, were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for “expertly exposing the military units and Buddhist villagers responsible for the systematic expulsion and murder of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.” The story they were working on at the time of their arrest would eventually detail the killing of 10 men by villagers and troops in September 2017.

Reuters said in a statement Tuesday (April 23) the two men “were victims of a police set-up to silence their truthful reporting. We will continue to do all we can to free them as soon as possible.”

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December 2017, drawing international condemnation, after a police officer thrust a bunch of documents on them. The two were subsequently charged with violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. They denied the allegation and argued that they were framed. During the trial, a police officer unexpectedly testified in their favor that the men were given confidential documents as part of a setup. But they were nevertheless convicted in September 2018.

Their earlier appeal of the verdict to a lower court in January was rejected because the judge deemed evidence submitted by the defense lawyers to be insufficient.

The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed disappointment in today’s ruling, calling it a “grave injustice” to the two men and their families and “an enduring stain on Myanmar’s reputation.”

The rejected appeal marked the second time this month that Myanmar could have freed the journalists but didn’t. Last week, Myanmar amnestied thousands of prisoners (paywall) as part of its new year celebrations, but the two journalists weren’t among them.

While in prison, Wa Lone penned an illustrated children’s book, Jay Jay the Journalist, which tells the story of a young reporter investigating a nearby polluted river. Thousands of copies of the book have been donated to schools, libraries, and monasteries around Myanmar, according to Columbia Journalism Review.