Two Reuters reporters, jailed after investigating the killing of several Rohingya Muslims, will remain in prison, Myanmar’s highest court ruled Tuesday.
“They were sentenced for seven years and this decision stands, and the appeal is rejected,” Supreme Court Justice Soe Naing told the court, according to Reuters. The judge did not elaborate.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December 2017 after they helped expose a massacre of 10 Muslim men and implicated government forces in the killings. Myanmar arrested the journalists for allegedly obtaining confidential government documents.
The two journalists were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting this month, along with their colleagues. The Reuters report “expertly” exposed military units and Buddhist villagers who were “responsible for the systematic expulsion and murder of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, courageous coverage that landed its reporters in prison,” the Pulitzer committee said.
The journalists’ lawyers argued the police had set them up — and a prosecution witness said in pretrial hearings last year that the police had planted military documents on the reporters to frame them for violating the country’s Official Secrets Act. But the lower court found that the reporters had intended to harm national security. And the witness who testified that the police planted evidence was sentenced to one year in prison for violating the Police Disciplinary Act.
With Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision, the two Reuters journalists have exhausted their legal appeals in Myanmar.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not commit any crime, nor was there any proof that they did,” Reuters chief counsel Gail Gove said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead, they 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.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed disappointment in the ruling. “Myanmar authorities have committed a grave injustice to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their families, and criminalized independent journalism,” said CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin. “They should both be free and able to continue their reporting, not sitting in jail cells. Their conviction and sentence will be an enduring stain on Myanmar’s reputation.”
Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife “broke down in tears when the ruling was read,” The Associated Press reported.
They were also recognized by Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue. “In prison in Myanmar, two young Reuters reporters remain separated from their wives and children, serving a sentence for defying the ethnic divisions that rend that country,” Time wrote. “For documenting the deaths of 10 minority Rohingya Muslims, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone got seven years. The killers they exposed were sentenced to 10.”
The original verdict was condemned by human rights groups, press freedom associations and Western governments. Vice President Pence said last year he was “deeply troubled” by the decision to imprison the journalists. They should “be commended — not imprisoned — for their work exposing human rights violations & mass killings,” Pence wrote, calling for their immediate release.