Fri, Sep 07, 2018 - Page 9 News List

How two reporters were punished for uncovering an atrocity

In a Burmese court, the defense’s ability to punch holes in the case was not enough to stop Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from being sentenced to seven years in prison after they investigated the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers

By John Chalmers  /  Reuters, YANGON, MYANMAR

The report also accused the government of Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi of contributing to “the commission of atrocity crimes” by failing to shield minorities from crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Myanmar has rejected the findings.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent about 15 years under house arrest during the junta era, has made few public statements about the case.

In a rare comment in June, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the reporters were not arrested for covering the violence in western Myanmar.

“They were arrested because they broke the Official Secrets Act,” she said.

The act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar — then known as Burma — was under British rule. The charge against the reporters carried a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty under section 3.1 (c) of the act, which covers obtaining secret official documentation that “might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy.”

At the time of their arrest in December, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers during an army crackdown in Rakhine State in the west of the country.

The violence has sent more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, where they now live in vast refugee camps.

The US has accused the Burmese government of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who are widely reviled in the majority-Buddhist country.

Myanmar says its operations in Rakhine were a legitimate response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya insurgents.

Reuters published its investigation into the massacre on Feb. 8.

An account of the killing of eight men and two high-school students in September in the village of Inn Din, the report prompted international demands for a credible probe into the wider bloodshed in Rakhine.

The story and its accompanying photographs provided the first independent confirmation of what took place at Inn Din.

Two of the photos obtained by the reporters show the men kneeling, in one with their hands behind their necks and in a second with their hands tied behind their backs. A third picture shows their bodies, some apparently with bullet wounds, others with gashes, in a blood-stained, shallow grave.

SLEEP DEPRIVED

The prosecution of the reporters put Aung San Suu Kyi in the glare of an uncomfortable global spotlight.

Hailed as a champion of democracy for standing up to the junta, she was released from house arrest in 2010. Her party won a general election in 2015 and formed Myanmar’s first civilian government in more than half a century in early 2016.

However, her Cabinet includes three generals; in a speech last month, she called these military men “all rather sweet.”

Earlier this year, US diplomat Bill Richardson said Aung San Suu Kyi was “furious” with him when he raised the case of the Reuters journalists with her.

Richardson, a Cabinet member during former US president Bill Clinton’s administration, resigned in January from an international panel set up by Myanmar to advise on the Rohingya crisis, saying the body was conducting a “whitewash” and accusing Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said that Richardson was “pursuing his own agenda” and had been asked to step down.

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