U.S. joins in outcry against Myanmar's jailing of 2 reporters

MYANMAR-MEDIA-RIGHTS-JUSTICE

A court in Myanmar sentenced two journalists to seven years in prison Monday for illegal possession of official documents.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who have been held in Yangon's Insein prison since their arrest in December, were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, a draconian British colonial-era law which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Last week, United Nations investigators said Myanmar's military leaders should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity and said the mass killings of Rohingya constituted genocide. As several appeals for bail had earlier been rejected, the only way out is for the defence to appeal to the regional court first and then the Supreme Court.

"And so they have been found guilty under the state secrets act", he said.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said the 7-year sentence "for reporting the truth is what we expect from dictatorships". Some 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the violence targeting them after attacks by Rohingya militants killed a dozen members of the security forces.

"Today is a sad day for Myanmar. and the press everywhere", Stephen J. Adler, Reuters Editor-in-Chief, said in a statement, denouncing the charges as "false" and "designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press".

They were arrested after being invited to a dinner with police in Yangon and pounced on as they left the restaurant, accused of possessing classified material. "I believe in justice, democracy and freedom", he said.

The small courtroom was cramped with family members, local and foreign journalists, and diplomats, including the United States and British ambassadors in Myanmar.

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"The right to freedom of expression is not guaranteed - it is conditional on not challenging the government or the military, on not crossing their red lines", said Thomas Kean, Wa Lone's former editor at the Myanmar Times and editor in chief of Frontier Myanmar, an English-language magazine.

The two journalists had been reporting past year on the brutal crackdown by security forces on the Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Britain on Monday called for the immediate release of two Reuters jailed in Myanmar for their reporting of the Rohingya crisis, saying that the verdict undermined press freedom in Myanmar.

"Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be allowed to return to their families and continue their work as journalists".

But the military acknowledged the killing of the 10 Rohingya at Inn Din after arresting the Reuters reporters.

The pair had been gathering evidence about the execution of 10 men in the village of Inn Din in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State.

Authorities have made a show of dragging the journalists, handcuffed and flanked by dozens of police officers, to court for weekly proceedings, sometimes hastily pushing Wa Lone back into a police van when he tries to address reporters present.

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