Myanmar court rejects final appeal by jailed Reuters journalists

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were accused of breaking Official Secrets Act for reporting on Rohingya crisis

The highest court of Myanmar has denied the final appeal of the two Reuters journalists who were imprisoned for their reporting on the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, upholding the seven-year prison sentence and dashing the last hope that justice would be served.

The swift ruling, by Myanmar’s highest court, was a devastating blow to Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, who were arrested in December 2017 and accused of breaking a colonial-era Official Secrets Act, and have now been in jail for 16 months.

They had already lost a previous appeal at the Yangon court earlier this year.

On Tuesday morning, Supreme Court Justice Soe Naing announced the ruling to the court in a brief statement that went into no detail about why the appeal was rejected. “The Supreme Court upholds the conviction made by the previous court,” he said. As a result, the pair will have to serve out the original seven year sentence handed to them in September.

In a statement, Reuters Chief Counsel Gail Gove said: “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not commit any crime, nor was there any proof that they did. Instead, they were victims of a police set-up to silence their truthful reporting. We will continue to do all we can to free them as soon as possible.”

At the time of their arrest, the pair were working on an in-depth investigation into the brutal violence carried out against the Rohingya in Rahkine state by Myanmar’s military.

The pair have continuously maintained their innocence and stated they were set up by the police who planted official papers on them at a meeting,

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine state over the border to Bangladesh since the military’s crackdown in August 2017, bringing accounts of rape, arson and mass killings. The UN has since described the killing as ethnic cleansing and called for Myanmar military generals to be tried for genocide for their actions.

The lengthy trial of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo was widely regarded as a sham, with a lack of evidence, inconsistent witnesses and one policeman giving testimony stating that he had been given orders to set up the journalists in a sting operation. However, the pair were found guilty and in September sentenced to seven years in jail.

The earlier failed appeal to the supreme court cited lack of proof of a crime and evidence that the pair were set up by police.

The ruling in September sparked widespread condemnation, including from US vice president Mike Pence, who asked leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene. But calls for their release have fallen flat inside Myanmar, where Aung San Suu Kyi has said the case has “nothing to do with freedom of expression” and said they were jailed because they broke the law.

The supreme court’s decision to reject the appeal was widely criticised. Acting UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby expressed his “disappointment” at the ruling. “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be allowed to return to their families and continue their work as journalists,” said Ostby.

Shawn Crispin, south-east Asia representative of the committee to protect journalists said: “Myanmar authorities have committed a grave injustice to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their families, and criminalised independent journalism. Their conviction and sentence will be an enduring stain on Myanmar’s reputation.”

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the ruling was symptomatic of “just how wrong Myanmar’s democracy under Aung San Suu Kyi is going”.

Outside Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been feted with awards for their groundbreaking reporting. This month, they were awarded the Pulitzer prize for international reporting for their investigation into the Rohingya crisis.


Hannah Ellis-Petersen South-east Asia correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Myanmar frees Reuters journalists jailed for reporting on Rohingya crisis
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent more than a year in jail after being accused of breaching Official Secrets Act

Hannah Ellis-Petersen South-east Asia correspondent

07, May, 2019 @5:28 AM

Article image
Reuters reporters jailed for seven years in Myanmar
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo arrested in December after reporting on massacre of Rohingya Muslims

Jamie Fullerton and Jacob Goldberg in Yangon

03, Sep, 2018 @6:39 AM

Article image
Reuters journalists to remain in Myanmar jail after losing appeal
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo jailed for seven years for breaching country’s Official Secrets Act

Hannah Ellis-Petersen South-east Asia correspondent

11, Jan, 2019 @6:59 AM

Article image
'A blow to press freedom': world reacts to jailing of Reuters journalists in Myanmar
UN human rights chief calls for the pair’s unconditional release as Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to condemn sentence

Jacob Goldberg in Yangon, Jamie Fullerton and Patrick Wintour

03, Sep, 2018 @3:04 PM

Article image
Myanmar: pleas for release of Reuters journalists mount
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested over reporting of massacre against Rohingya

Libby Hogan in Yangon and Hannah Ellis-Petersen

01, Jul, 2018 @5:42 PM

Article image
Reuters reporters clock up 100 days in Myanmar jail
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed for reporting on anti-Rohingya violence, reach milestone

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

22, Mar, 2018 @10:42 AM

Article image
#ArrestMeToo and a black front page: Myanmar rejects jailing of Reuters reporters
Outrage over the sentence has built inside Myanmar, with newspapers reflecting widespread anger

Guardian staff

06, Sep, 2018 @4:37 AM

Article image
Jailed reporters' wives 'devastated' by Aung San Suu Kyi response
Partners of Reuters pair Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo tell of sadness at seven-year sentence

Jacob Goldberg in Yangon

05, Sep, 2018 @12:17 AM

Article image
'I struggle without him': wife of jailed Reuters reporter marks grim milestone
Imprisoned in Myanmar, Wa Lone has met his infant daughter just twice in the 12 months he has been behind bars

Jacob Goldberg in Yangon

12, Dec, 2018 @12:01 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on press freedom: a connective tissue of society | Editorial
Editorial: Journalists defy dangers because they understand that their role is a necessary check on the ambition and vanity of the rich and powerful. Protecting reporters has never been so necessary


01, May, 2018 @5:32 PM