GENEVA (25 April 2019) – UN human rights experts said the rejection by Myanmar’s Supreme Court of a final appeal by two jailed Reuters journalists was a grave injustice, and represented a dark day for media freedoms and democracy in the country.
On Tuesday, Myanmar’s top court rejected the appeal by Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who were jailed for seven years in connection with their investigation into the massacre of Rohingya men and boys at Inn Din village, Rakhine State, in 2017. Last week, they were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.
“The upholding of the conviction of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe is a grave injustice,” said the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye.
“This raises additional concerns about the independence of the judiciary, and the country’s commitment to international human rights standards,” they added, calling on the court to publish a full decision of its reasoning for rejecting the appeal.
Lee and Kaye said the case underlined an increasing curtailment of free expression and access to information across the country, and a worrying intolerance of legitimate criticism of the military.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not commit a crime. They were doing their job as investigative journalists, reporting on issues of the upmost concern to the people of Myanmar, and serving in an essential democratic function,” the experts said.
The two journalists were arrested in December 2017 while working on the investigation, and found to be in possession of secret documents, which a policeman later testified were planted on them. They were charged with breaching the law on state secrets and sentenced to seven years imprisonment in September 2018. Their appeal was rejected by the Yangon Region High Court in January of this year.
On several occasions the experts have written to the authorities to express their concerns about the arrest and conviction of the journalists.
“With this deeply disappointing decision to uphold their conviction, it seems that Myanmar is once again going down a dark path, and not pursuing the genuine reforms that so many had hoped for,” the experts said.
The Special Rapporteurs called on the Government to review 1923 Official Secrets Act in line with Myanmar’s obligations under international law. The Act carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.
The UN experts: Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.