Amnesty, AJI condemn imprisonment of Myanmar journalists

Kharishar Kahfi

The Jakarta Post


Jakarta   /  Mon, September 3, 2018  /  05:54 pm

In crisis: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's Rakhine state scramble for aid at the Kutupalong refugee camp in the Bangladeshi town of Teknaf in September 2017. Nearly 125,000 mostly Rohingya refugees have entered Bangladesh since an upsurge of violence in Myanmar in August 2017. (AFP/K M Asad)

Long prison sentences for two journalists in Myanmar send a stark warning about press freedom in the country, a human rights group and an Indonesian journalists’ alliance said on Monday. The journalists covered alleged crimes against humanity on the Rohingyas in Rakhine.

Amnesty International crisis response director Tirana Hassan has demanded that the convictions be “quashed and both men immediately and unconditionally released.”

“This politically-motivated decision has significant ramifications for press freedom in Myanmar. It sends a stark warning to other journalists in the country of the severe consequences that await should they look too closely at military abuses. This amounts to censorship through fear,” she said in a statement.

A court found the two journalists guilty of breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act for allegedly possessing documents relating to security forces in Rakhine state and sentenced them to seven years behind bars—half of the maximum sentences of 14 years in prison—on Monday.

Prior to their arrest in December last year, the pair had been working on Reuters’ investigative coverage of military operations in northern Rakhine, which were marked by alleged crimes against humanity targeting the Rohingya population.

“Today’s verdicts cannot conceal the truth of what happened in Rakhine. It’s thanks to the bravery of journalists like Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo that the military’s atrocities have been exposed,” Tirana went on to say.

Amnesty’s statement was echoed by the Alliance of Independent Journalism (AJI). “The verdict was a systematic measure by the [Myanmar] government to silence press freedom in the country,” AJI chairman Abdul Manan told The Jakarta Post.

He added that "solidarity" among ASEAN countries, which sometimes was interpreted as not criticizing each other's government, should not be an excuse for the association not to speak up against violations of basic rights, including press freedom.