YANGON: At least 100 Myanmar youth activists and journalists called for the release of two jailed Reuters journalists yesterday, warning that the seven-year prison terms handed to the pair this month threaten the public’s right to information.
Demonstrators including high-school students gathered peacefully in the heart of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, held signs and chanted slogans denouncing the guilty verdict against the two journalists. A small contingent of police looked on as the protesters released black balloons printed with the words ‘Free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’.
Reporters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted on Sept 3 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a case that was seen as a test of democratic freedoms in Myanmar.
Thar Lun Zaung Htet, a journalist involved in organising the protest, said the verdict against reporters who were “just doing their job” would stifle reporting in Myanmar.
“Losing press freedom means our democratic transition is going backwards,” he said.
The verdict drew calls from senior United Nations officials, political figures including US Vice President Mike Pence and human rights advocates around the world for their immediate release.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
The country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi said at a forum in Hanoi last week the case had nothing to do with freedom of expression. The reporters had been sentenced for handling official secrets and “were not jailed because they were journalists”, the Nobel laureate said.
On Friday six Myanmar journalist organisations published a rare statement from groups within the country criticising the country’s leader, saying they were ‘disappointed’ with her comments.
The reporters, who plead not guilty, said they were handed rolled papers by police shortly before they were detained last December, and a police witness testified in court that they had been set up.
The reporters had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists amid a military response to insurgent attacks last August. — Reuters