YANGON — The international community has condemned the sentencing of journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, with the European Union saying it undermines media freedom, the public’s right to information and the development of the rule of law in Myanmar.
EU foreign policy chief Ms Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the sentencing and jailing of the Reuters reporters would “also serve to intimidate other journalists who will fear harassment and undue arrest or prosecution for merely doing their jobs”.
Mogherini said media freedom and critical journalism were essential pillars of democracy.
“We therefore reiterate our expectation that the authorities ensure adequate conditions for journalists to carry out their work,” she said.
“The prison sentences of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be reviewed and the two journalists be released immediately and unconditionally.”
A grouping of past and current regional MPs denounced the verdict against the two reporters under what it called the “archaic” 1923 Official Secrets Act.
“This is a travesty of justice which undermines press freedom and the judicial system in Myanmar,” said a statement issued by the chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Mr Charles Santiago.
“These two men are being ripped from their families for no good reason,” said Santiago, a Malaysian MP.
“Across the region, journalists are facing prison or worse for just doing their jobs. Initial high hopes that a Myanmar under Aung San Suu Kyi would side itself with those countries pushing for greater democracy and freedom in Southeast Asia are becoming increasingly dim,” he said.
Watchdog group Human Rights Watch said the convictions of the two men “on politically motivated charges heralds a return to the media repression seen during military rule”.
“The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts’ willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities,” said Mr Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government,” Adams said.
“Myanmar’s leadership should immediately quash the verdicts and release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” he said.
“These convictions won’t hide the horrors against the Rohingya from the world – they merely reveal the precarious state of free speech in the country and the urgent need for international action to free these journalists.”
PEN America, which campaigns for freedom of expression, said the convictions were a travesty of justice and a grave setback for Myanmar’s aspiring democracy.
“While Myanmar’s prosecutors may claim victory today, their country’s democracy and international credibility have suffered a mortal blow,” said a statement from the New York-based organisation, which earlier this year named Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo as winners of its PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.
“The fate of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is a litmus test for a once hopeful regime whose reputation and standing have been irreparably tarnished by egregious human rights abuses,” PEN America chief executive officer, Ms Suzanne Nossel, said in the statement.
“Today’s baseless conviction of two intrepid reporters in a case that has captured the world’s attention will be remembered as an ominous moment in Myanmar’s fitful struggle for democracy,” Nossel said.
“Given the overwhelming evidence that these two men not only committed no crime but were likely victims of a deliberate set-up by authorities, the court’s decision can only be understood as part of an orchestrated attempt to intimidate the press and enforce silence regarding the violence in Rakhine State,” she said.
“There is still an opportunity to right these grievous wrongs; PEN America calls on the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally pardon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and release them to their families.”