Myanmar recently sentenced two journalists to seven years jail time. Their crime? The journalists exposed the brutal massacre of the Rohingya community at the hands of the country’s security forces.
The journalists, employed at Reuters, were found guilty under the Official Secrets Act, which is a colonial-era act that declares the state can prosecute a person who “obtains, collects, records or publishes or communicates” secrets of the state for the benefit of an enemy. And even though the journalists were sentenced to seven years imprisonment, the act actually proposes a maximum punishment of up to 14 years. The court ruling has led to a massive uproar among international media.
“Their conviction follows a legal process that clearly breached international standards. It 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,” Reuters quotes U.N. Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet.
Interestingly, the verdict has not evoked any condemnation from Aung San Suu Syi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the current state counselor of the country. Media outlets have also been very vocal against Aung’s continued silence, some even stating that she does not deserve her Peace Prize.
Meanwhile, one of the convicted reporters said: “I have no fear. I have not done anything wrong… I believe in justice, democracy, and freedom,” The Guardian quotes. Both the reporters testified in court that they had been harshly treated after their arrest.
The Rohingya massacre
The journalists got into trouble with the law after exposing an incident that occurred during last year’s brutal state crackdown on the Rohingya population. They had exposed the military’s involvement in the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in Rakhine.
Their report highlighted how eight adults and two students were killed by the military in the village of Inn Din. It was this report, together with the photographs, that prompted the international community to demand a probe into the Rakhine Bloodshed.
While two photos showed men in a kneeling position, one photograph showed them lying down with bullet wounds and blood stains. The entire crackdown had caused some 700,000 Rohingyas to flee Myanmar and move to neighboring countries like Bangladesh and India.
“Today’s verdict cannot conceal the truth of what happened in Rakhine state… It’s thanks to the bravery of journalists like Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo that the military’s atrocities have been exposed. Instead of targeting these two journalists, the Myanmar authorities should have been going after those responsible for killings, rape, torture and the torching of hundreds of Rohingya villages,” CTV News quotes a statement made by Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s director of crisis.
Though the accusation of state-sponsored genocide has been rejected by the Myanmar government, UN officials recommended that senior military officials who were involved in the crackdown be charged with committing genocide. Facebook banned the accounts of the military chief of Myanmar and a few other individuals in order to stop them from spreading wrong information about the Rohingya massacre.
Though several human rights activists and journalists marched to the country’s capital Yangon protesting against the arrest of the reporters, it failed to make any significant impact since most of the people in the country have an overwhelming prejudice against the Rohingya community.