Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy Bärbel Kofler issued the following statement to Reuters today (3 September) on the sentencing of Myanmar journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to seven years’ imprisonment:
I was appalled to hear of the seven-year prison sentences for the two Myanmar journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. The verdict is a major setback for freedom of the press and the media in the South-East Asian country. The two journalists were found guilty of treason on the basis of a law from colonial times. All they have done is support the quest for truth in Rakhine State.
Their arrest and their severe punishment will have the effect of intimidating other critical and independent journalists in Myanmar. However, the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission confirms how important it still is to uncover the truth about the terrible human rights violations in Rakhine State. I encourage all the people in Myanmar who are in a position to help reveal the truth to do so.
The two Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on 12 December 2017 for reporting on human rights violations in northern Rakhine State in August 2017. In the course of their research they revealed that ten men had been executed in the village of Inn Din near Maungdaw by members of the Myanmar security forces and local militia in early September 2017.
On 10 January 2018, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo appeared in court for the first time. On the same day, the military admitted for the first time that soldiers had been involved in the killings. Seven soldiers were sentenced to ten years in prison.
The law (Official Secrets Act) on the basis of which the two journalists were prosecuted dates from 1923, when Myanmar, then Burma, was a province of British India. It was designed to serve the British administration as a weapon to stifle anti colonial unrest and prohibits the communication of state secrets and contact with foreign agents.