Myanmar judge rejects motion to free Reuters reporters, despite flawed case

Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested four months ago while reporting on the Rohingya crisis

Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested four months ago while reporting on the Rohingya crisis

"Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were reporting on issues in Myanmar in an independent and impartial way", he said.

Myanmar has rejected accusations of ethnic cleansing in its western state of Rakhine, saying its security forces launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation on August 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.

The two journalists were arrested December 12, with police accusing them of violating the Official Secrets Act, a law dating from British colonial times, by acquiring "important secret papers" handed to them by two policemen who worked in Rakhine.

The journalists had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in the village of Inn Din, in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, during an army crackdown that has sent almost 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.

On January 10, the military said the 10 Rohingya men belonged to a group of 200 militants who had attacked security forces.

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone (C) is escorted by police as he talks to media while leaving after his trial at the court house in Yangon, Myanmar, 11 April 2018.

Seven Myanmar soldiers have been sentenced to "10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area" for participating in a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in a village in northwestern Rakhine state last September, the army said on Tuesday. The reporters were arrested for allegedly collecting classified documents from their sources in the police.

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"Those who killed people in the mass killing were given a sentence of 10 years".

"Everybody knows it's unfair", said Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon.

At that same prior hearing, lead prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung countered that the defendants had been found in possession of secret government documents, that by obtaining them the journalists posed a threat to state security and the national interest, and that as such the defence's motion for a dismissal should be rejected. When convicted they can end up to 14 years. Last month Reuters announced that prominent rights attorney Amal Clooney had joined the legal team.

Condemnation of Wednesday's ruling by the presiding magistrate Ye Lwin came predictably from Reuters, which has been a vocal supporter of its local reporters as the case has proceeded.

Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said he was disappointed with the court's decision.

"They have not violated any laws in the course of their newsgathering and were simply doing their jobs".

Rohingya leaders in the camps said they would welcome the opportunity to meet the minister in person. "We will continue to do all we can to secure their release".

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