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Myanmar court jails Reuters reporters for seven years

By Reuters - Sep 03,2018 - Last updated at Sep 03,2018

Reuters journalist Wa Lone, who is based in Myanmar, is seen working in Sittwe in the state of Rakhine, Myanmar, on September 18, 2017 (Reuters file photo)

YANGON — A Myanmar judge on Monday found two Reuters journalists guilty of breaching a law on state secrets and jailed them for seven years, in a landmark case seen as a test of progress towards democracy in the southeast Asian country.

Yangon northern district judge Ye Lwin said Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, breached the colonial-era Official Secrets Act when they collected and obtained confidential documents.

"The defendants... have breached Official Secrets Act section 3.1.c, and are sentenced to seven years," the judge said, adding that the time served since they were detained on December 12 would be taken into account. The defence can appeal the decision to a regional court and then the supreme court.

The verdict comes amid mounting pressure on the government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi over a security crackdown sparked by attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on security forces in Rakhine state in west Myanmar in August 2017.

More than 700,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims have fled into Bangladesh since then, according to UN agencies.

The two reporters, who were investigating the killing by the security forces of Rohingya villagers at the time of their arrest, had pleaded not guilty.

Press freedom advocates, the United Nations, the European Union and countries including the United States, Canada and Australia had called for the journalists' acquittal.

"Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere," Reuters editor in chief Stephen J Adler said in a statement. 

"We will not wait while Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo suffer this injustice and will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days, including whether to seek relief in an international forum."

The reporters had told the court two police officials handed them papers at a restaurant in the city of Yangon moments before other officers arrested them.

One police witness testified the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists to block or punish them for their reporting of a mass killing of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.

More than 80 people, including senior diplomats, were packed into the court on Monday. 

Judge Ye Lwin read a summary of witness testimony for about an hour before delivering his verdict, which had been postponed by a week because he was sick.

The court determined that "confidential documents" found on the two would have been useful "to enemies of the state and terrorist organisations". Documents in their possession and on their phones were "not public information", he said.

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