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Myanmar Sentences Reuters Journalists to 7 Years in Prison

One prosecution witness who said he was present during the arrests admitted under cross-examination that he had written the location on his hand so he would not forget it while he was testifying.

Another officer admitted that he burned his notes of the arrest. Yet another police witness acknowledged that the information in the supposedly secret documents had been published in newspaper reports before the arrests.

A police captain who told the court in April that the arrests had been a setup was punished for his testimony with a year in prison. “I am revealing the truth, because police of any rank must maintain their own integrity,” the captain, Moe Yan Naing told reporters after he testified. “It is true that they were set up.”

In his ruling on Monday, Judge Ye Lwin rejected the defense arguments and found that the journalists illegally possessed confidential documents. He said that the reporters had been consistently trying to obtain government secrets and share them, which could be useful to enemies of the state.

In addition, the judge said that phone numbers they possessed, such as the number of a contact with the rebel Arakan Army, was further evidence of their intention to undermine the government.

For many journalists, finding secrets and making them public is the essence of the job.

“This decision is made politically, not because they did something wrong,” said Myint Kyaw, a member of the independent Myanmar Press Council. “This decision is a warning that no journalist can report freely about the Rakhine issue.”

Diplomats and rights advocates were outspoken in their criticism of the verdict.

Sean Bain, legal adviser in Yangon for the International Commission of Jurists, said the trial was “grossly unfair” and that punishing journalists for exposing human rights violations undermines the rule of law.

“The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts’ willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.”

Source: NYT > World

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