Myanmar top court rejects Reuters journalists' appeal

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Wa Lone, left, and Kyaw Soe Oo gesture to the camera wearing handcuffs after their arrest in 2018Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
Wa Lone, left, and Kyaw Soe Oo have been in prison for more than a year

Myanmar's top court has rejected an appeal by two Reuters journalists jailed on charges linked to their reports on the Rohingya.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years last September in a case condemned around the world.

They had revealed that state security forces executed 10 Muslim Rohingya during a military operation in 2017.

A lower court had rejected their initial appeal before it was brought to the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday Supreme Court Justice Soe Naing announced Myanmar's top court had reached the same conclusion.

"They were sentenced for seven years and this decision stands," he reportedly said, without giving details.

The pair have been in prison for more than a year for breaking Myanmar's Official Secrets Act.

They were arrested carrying official documents handed to them by police officers. Both maintain their innocence and say the authorities set them up.

"I [felt] hurt when the court rejected the appeal. I'm very sad as the verdict was not what i expected," Chit Suu Win, the wife of Kyaw Soe Oo told BBC Burmese.

"He [Kyaw] and I expected good news."

When arrested, the two were investigating a mass execution of Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom have been forced to flee destruction and persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar (also called Burma).

The pair's lawyer said the verdict had "damaged" freedom of the press in the country.

"We regret it very much not only for them but for the prestige of the country, for freedom of the press," Khin Maung Zaw told the BBC. "All are damaged by this verdict."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Human rights groups have condemned the case

UN investigators have called for top Myanmar generals to be investigated for genocide, and criticised the country's de facto leader Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to stop the attacks.

The massacre the reporters were investigating is the only one the Burmese government has admitted. Myanmar's military - which says its operations targeted militant or insurgent threats - had until then insisted its soldiers carried out no unlawful killings.

What were they investigating?

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are Myanmar citizens who were working for the international news agency.

They had been collecting evidence about the murders of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine in September 2017.

They were arrested before the report's publication, after being handed some documents by two policemen who they had met at a restaurant for the first time.

A police witness testified during the trial that the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
These are the men whose deaths the Reuters journalists were investigating

The final report - a collaboration with other journalists - was considered extraordinary, because it gathered testimonies from a range of participants, including Buddhist villagers who confessed to killing Rohingya Muslims and torching their homes. Accounts from paramilitary police also directly implicated the military.

The military had previously released its own investigation into allegations of abuse in Rakhine, and exonerated itself of wrongdoing, despite large amounts of testimony from Rohingya refugees describing atrocities.

Authorities later launched their own probe into the Inn Din killings, confirming the massacre had taken place and promising to take action against those who had taken part.

Seven soldiers were sentenced to prison for their involvement in the killings. The military said the soldiers would serve 10 years with hard labour for "contributing and participating in murder".