Last December, two Reuters journalists – Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – were arrested for supposedly carrying secret government documents while reporting on the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. Both have now been convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment each for breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act. Their trial was a travesty of justice. Oo has complained of being tortured in prison and the police have even admitted to deliberately destroying and planting evidence. It is clear that the journalists are being punished for their reporting on the plight of the Rohingya. The conduct of the trial and the verdict has been condemned by respected human rights groups and activists, the UN and most governments around the world. Lone and Oo seem have been targeted for government reprisals because they exposed the massacre of 10 Rohingya by security forces. Their show trial was nothing but an attempt to punish independent reporters and scare into submission others who dare report on the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. Disgracefully, Myanmar leader Aung San Sui Kyi – who herself spent 15 years under house effort for daring to oppose the military – has had nothing to say about the journalists beyond claiming they were arrested only for breaking the law.
The complicity of Kyi in the atrocities committed by the military is nothing new. She has been such an enthusiastic supporter of the operations against the Rohingya that there have been calls for her to be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize. It is perhaps not surprising that the verdict has come at a time when the military in Myanmar is under increasing international scrutiny. Last week, a report by UN investigators accused the military of genocide against the Rohingya and called for army generals to be prosecuted for gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. Kyi was named in the report for failing to support the Rohingya. In truth, her role has gone far beyond silence as she has been an active supporter of military actions that have led to more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. Now, with the harsh prison sentence given to the Reuters journalists, locals reporting on the military will be under more pressure than before. The state has shown that it is willing to take punitive action against anyone who dares cross it and reports the truth of what is happening in Rakhine state.