Convicted Reuters journalists in Myanmar to hear appeal decision today; scribes’ lawyers, families express hope for their freedom

Yangon: Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar over their investigation of atrocities committed against the Rohingya will learn on Friday if an appeal against their conviction has succeeded.

File image of Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo. Reuters.

File image of Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo. Reuters.

Reporters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in Yangon in December 2017 and later sentenced to seven years in jail for violating the state secrets act, a charge supporters say is trumped up.

“We hope for freedom for them,” Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer for the journalists, told AFP¬†on Thursday, adding that the pair will not be present in court.

Prosecutors said they had classified information regarding security operations in Rakhine state, from where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled during an army-led crackdown the United Nations has dubbed “ethnic cleansing”. At the time of the arrest, they were probing a massacre of 10 Rohingya.

The two men have insisted they were the victims of a police set-up, pointing to testimony from a serving officer who said a superior had ordered others to entrap them.

The trial was widely regarded as a sham and seen as punishment for their probe, sparking outrage around the world including from US vice president Mike Pence. Lawyers representing the young men said the Yangon Regional High Court, in its ruling expected later Friday, could uphold the sentences, reduce the terms or quash the convictions.

Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife Chit Su Win said she planned on attending and was optimistic about the outcome. “I really feel excited to hear it. I believe the two will be freed,” she said.

Outside the country, the two men have been hailed as heroes and jointly named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2018, alongside other persecuted and slain journalists. However, they have gained little sympathy within Myanmar.

The violent military campaign in 2017 forced more than 720,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh, with refugees bringing accounts of murder, rape and arson. UN investigators have called for top generals to be investigated for genocide, and singled out civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for criticism for failing to stop the crackdown.

The image of the formerly renowned champion of human rights has been further damaged by the Reuters trial, and she has yet to speak up in their defence.

Reporters Without Borders representative Daniel Bastard said it would be “utterly devastating” if the court upholds the verdict. “The message that Myanmar authorities would send is absolutely dreadful: seven years in prison, this is the price you’ll have to pay if you dare investigate subjects we don’t want you to.”

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