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.