Myanmar: Reuters convictions a massive blow to the rule of law

Sep 3, 2018 | News

The Yangon District Court’s decision today to sentence Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to seven years’ imprisonment for violating the Official Secrets Act deals a massive blow to human rights and the rule of law in Myanmar, said the ICJ.

“The Court’s decision effectively punishes these two courageous journalists for exposing human rights violations, following a grossly unfair trial,” said Frederick Rawski, Asia Pacific Director for the ICJ.

“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,” he added.

The ICJ has monitored the case since the journalists’ initial detention in December 2017.

As previously noted by the ICJ, the detention and trial has violated numerous basic fair trial guarantees.

The prosecutors had a duty to drop charges and the judge should have dismissed the case given the lack of evidence and the unlawfulness of detention because of fair trail rights violations.

“The case is emblematic of how the justice system ends up reinforcing rather than challenging military impunity,” said Rawski.

“The result undermines government claims that it can deliver accountability for human rights violations on its own, and does nothing to build trust that justice system can act independently and impartially after emerging from decades of military rule,” he added.

Members of security forces generally enjoy impunity for the perpetration of human rights violations, including for crimes under international law.

The ICJ has previously reported that victims and their families, as well as journalists, often face retaliation for publicizing human rights violations by the military.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December 2017, and held incommunicado for nearly two weeks, before being charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act for allegedly possessing documents related to the operations of security forces in northern Rakhine State, during “clearance operations.”

The two reporters had been reporting on human rights violations in Rakhine State, including the killing of Rohingya by the military in Inn Dinn Village.

In a report issued just last week, the UN Independent International Fact Finding Mission found that security forces had perpetrated crimes under international law during these operations, including crimes against humanity and possibly the crime of genocide.

The detention and prosecution of anyone, including journalists, based solely on the collection and publication of evidence relevant to serious human rights violations, is a violation of international law and standards on freedom of expression, the right to participation in public affairs and on the role of human rights defenders.

Legal options remaining for the journalists include appealing of today’s decision, and requesting a Presidential amnesty.

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