07:07, March 22 150 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-22 07:07:05
Reuters reporters clock up 100 days in Myanmar jail

Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myannmar for reporting on the campaign of violence against the Rohingya have now been in prison for 100 days.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December while they were investigating how the Myanmar military looted and burned a Rohingya village, killed 10 men and then buried the bodies in a mass grave.

The two journalists were accused of possessing secret government papers and held under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.

Wednesday marked their 11th appearance in court for their drawn-out preliminary trial, during which so far about only half of the 25 listed witnesses have taken to the stand.

Speaking to reporters in court, Wa Lone said: “We have spent 100 days in prison. Our journalism spirit was never down even after spending many days in there.”

The Reuters investigation by the pair documented evidence that the Myanmar military and Buddhist villagers hacked to death or shot 10 Rohingya Muslim men in a village in Rahkine state.

It was part of a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military that began in August, which has led more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee over the border to Bangladesh, where they are living in makeshift refugee camps.

The UN has condemned the military’s actions as having “all the hallmarks of genocide” and a recent fact-finding mission corroborated evidence of gang rapes, sexual violence against women and the killing of babies and children.

The Myanmar military and government have consistently denied the accusations of ethnic cleaning, though after the Reuters reporters’ findings were published, the military admitted soldiers had taken part in the killing.

There has been widespread international condemnation of the arrests of the journalists, and Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, was said to have raised the issue when he met Aung San Suu Kyi last month.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on 12 December after being invited to a restaurant in Yangon by two police officers they had never met before and handed some rolled up papers. They were said to contain information relating to the whereabouts of security forces in Rahkine.

The evidence presented in court against Wa Loe and Kyaw Soe Oo has exposed inconsistenies in the accounts of the police officers involved in the arrest. One police officer told the court he had set fire to the notes he made during his meeting with the journalists without reason, another admitted he was not clear on arrest procedures, and testimony on Wednesday contradicted the police assertion they had presented a warrant when searching Wa Lone’s house after his arrest and taking his laptop and hard drive.

A statement from Stephen J Adler, president and editor-in-chief of Reuters, said that the pair had been “detained simply for doing their jobs as journalists”.

“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are exemplary individuals and outstanding reporters who are dedicated to their families and their craft,” he added. “They should be in the newsroom, not in prison.”

The health of Wa Lone is said to have deteriorated. However, Verena Hölzl, a German reporter in Myanmar, shared an account from another prisoner in the same jail in Yangon.

“Was covering another trial this week and got a chance to talk to the accused young man,” she tweeted. “I asked him how life in prison was. Bad, he said, but there’s this great guy, a journalist. He reads Time to him and teaches him English every day. His name is Wa Lone.”

The court case will resume on 28 March.

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