While investigating an army massacre of Rohingya villagers, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo responded to an invitation to meet with a police officer in a Yangon restaurant, were handed some documents during the meeting, and were arrested as they left on a charge of possessing official secrets.
Despite ample proof of their innocence, they are being held simply because they did their jobs as reporters, and did it in an exemplary manner: they were among the few journalists to investigate a massacre of Rohingya Muslims by solders and Buddhist civilians in Inn Din, a village in northern Rakhine state, on 2 September 2017.
After Reuters published a report about the massacre, a military court sentenced seven soldiers to ten years in prison for carrying out “extra-judicial executions.” Meanwhile, the two Reuters reporters are facing the possibility of 14-year jail terms.
Despite a great deal of support for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from the international community including RSF, which has launched a petition for their release, and despite the many contradictions and inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case and the testimony of its witnesses, all of the requests for the journalists’ release have been rejected.
A police captain, Moe Yan Naing, unexpectedly testified on 20 April that the police deliberately set a trap for the journalists and – equally unexpectedly – the judge of the Yangon court that is hearing the case decided to accept his testimony despite the prosecution’s request that it should be ignored.
After giving his testimony, the police captain was himself given a one-year jail sentence because, he said, it “stops other police officers from saying the truth.”
“The evidence of the innocence and professionalism of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is overwhelming, so it is incomprehensible and unacceptable that these two Reuters journalists are still being held five months after their arrest,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“It is time to end this judicial farce. Continuing to hold them despite inconsistencies in the testimony, fabrication of evidence and procedural violations constitutes judicial persecution and points to a crude manipulation of the judicial system by the security agencies with the aim of deterring further investigative reporting on the army’s actions in Rakhine state. We call on Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to free these two journalists at once and to guarantee press freedom throughout the country.”
Since last September, RSF has been pressing Aung Suu Kyi about the press freedom violations in Myanmar resulting from the Rohingya crisis, and has repeatedly called on the government and army to allow media reporting in Rakhine state, where there has been “ethnic cleansing”, the UN says.
Myanmar has fallen six places in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 137th out of 180 countries.