(Reuters) - 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 toward democracy in the Southeast Asian country.
Here are some reactions to the news.
U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MYANMAR SCOT MARCIEL:
“I’m sad for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their families, but also for Myanmar. It’s deeply troubling for everybody who has struggled so hard here for media freedom.
“I think one has to ask will this process increase or decrease the confidence the people of Myanmar have in their justice system.”
BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO MYANMAR DAN CHUGG:”Speaking on behalf of the British government, but also on behalf of European Union member states, we are extremely disappointed by this verdict.
“Freedom of expression and rule of law are fundamental in a democracy, and this case has passed a long shadow over both today.
“The judge has appeared to have ignored evidence and to have ignored Myanmar law. This has dealt a hammer blow for the rule of law.”
STEPHANE DUJARRIC, SPOKESMAN FOR UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES:
“The Secretary-General takes note with concern of the conviction and sentencing ... in Myanmar of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to seven years of imprisonment. He urges the authorities to review their decision.
“The right to freedom of expression and information is a cornerstone of any democracy. It is unacceptable that these journalists were prosecuted for reporting on major human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.
“The Secretary-General will continue to advocate for the release of the journalists. He calls for full respect of freedom of the press and all human rights in Myanmar.”
FEDERICA MOGHERINI, SPOKESWOMAN OF THE EUROPEAN UNION HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND SECURITY POLICY:
“Today’s court decision... undermines the freedom of the media, the public’s right to information and the development of the rule of law in Myanmar.
“Their sentencing and imprisonment under the Official Secrets Act of 1923 for covering allegations of serious human rights violations in Rakhine State also serve to intimidate other journalists who will fear harassment and undue arrest or prosecution for merely doing their jobs.
“Media freedom and critical journalism are essential pillars of democracy. A free press has a key function in promoting transparency and holding democratic governments to account.
“The prison sentences of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be reviewed and the two journalists be released immediately and unconditionally.”
STEPHEN J. ADLER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REUTERS:
“Today is 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.
“Without any evidence of wrongdoing and in the face of compelling evidence of a police set-up, today’s ruling condemns them to the continued loss of their freedom and condones the misconduct of security forces.
“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.
“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.”
MICHELLE BACHELET, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS:
The verdict “sends a message to all journalists in Myanmar that they cannot operate fearlessly, but must rather make a choice to either self-censor or risk prosecution.”
TIRANA HASSAN, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S DIRECTOR OF CRISIS RESPONSE:
“These convictions must be quashed, and both men immediately and unconditionally released.
“This politically motivated decision has significant ramifications for press freedom in Myanmar. It sends a stark warning to other journalists of the severe consequences that await should they look too closely at military abuses. This amounts to censorship through fear.”
BRAD ADAMS, ASIA DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH:
“The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts’ willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities.
“These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.”
FREDERICK RAWSKI, ASIA PACIFIC DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION OF JURISTS:
“The court’s decision effectively punishes these two courageous journalists for exposing human rights violations, following a grossly unfair trial.
“The decision is a miscarriage of justice that inflicts needless suffering on them and their families, threatens freedom of expression, damages Myanmar’s global standing, and undermines its justice institutions all at once.”
SHAWN CRISPIN, SOUTHEAST ASIA REPRESENTATIVE, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS:
“Today’s ruling... on bogus charges marks a new press freedom low for Myanmar. The process that resulted in their convictions was a travesty of justice and will cast Myanmar as an anti-democratic pariah as long as they are wrongfully held behind bars. We call on Myanmar’s civilian authorities to immediately release the journalists.”
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS:
“A Burmese court found two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, guilty of violating the colonial-era ‘Official Secrets Act’ for investigating and reporting on an army massacre of Rohingya.
“It is clear to all that the Burmese military has committed vast atrocities. In a free country, it is the duty of a responsible press to keep people informed and hold leaders accountable. The conviction of two journalists for doing their job is another terrible stain on the Burmese government. We will continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release.”
IQBAL SOBHAN CHOWDHURY, MEDIA ADVISER TO BANGLADESH’S PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HASINA:
“This has once again proved the Myanmar government has been pursuing the suppression of the freedom of expression and freedom of media. It is now an open secret that any media or any person who wants to reveal the atrocities of the Myanmar army and administration against the Rohingya people will face persecution by the Myanmar government.
“We strongly condemn this and demand the release of the Reuters journalists and a halt to any further persecution of any media person in Myanmar.”
MOHIB ULLAH, ROHINGYA LEADER IN KUTAPALONG REFUGEE CAMP IN BANGLADESH:
“This is not justice. I would like to see them free as soon as possible. They did nothing wrong.”
THANT MYINT-U, MYANMAR HISTORIAN AND COMMENTATOR:
“A tragic day for media freedom and an intimation of what’s to come.”
AUNG HTUN OO, MEDIA TRAINER, YANGON JOURNALISM SCHOOL:
“The world of Myanmar news media is now in darkness... I understand this is trying to silence journalists so that they do not dare to say anything in the future.”
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, CANADA’S MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS:
“The verdict seriously jeopardizes the prospects for freedom of expression and democracy, and the fair and transparent application of law in Myanmar, both now and in the future.
“Canada joins the international community in strongly reiterating our calls for the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have already been detained for eight months, so that they can rejoin their families and continue their vital work.”
U.S. SENATOR BOB CORKER, HEAD OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:
“Imprisoning Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo further tarnishes the already failing leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi and harms Burma’s democracy as atrocities continue to be carried out against the Rohingya minority.”
ED ROYCE, CHAIRMAN OF U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE:
“This unjust verdict reaffirms that the Burmese government is complicit in the military’s atrocities. The U.S. should respond with more sanctions and a formal determination of genocide. We must act before it is too late.”
Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Additional reporting by Shoon Naing, Thu Thu Aung, Simon Lewis, Aye Min Thant and Ruma Paul in DHAKA, Matt Spetalnick and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Philip McClellan, Toni Reinhold and Dan Grebler
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