Myanmar denies Pulitzer-winning reporters’ appeal for freedom

Myanmar denies Pulitzer-winning reporters’ appeal for freedom

Rohingya refugees are resorting to desperate measures such as using makeshift rafts to cross the Naf River to escape to Bangladesh. (Andrew McConnell/ UNHCR)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court in Myanmar on Tuesday rejected the appeal of two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters sentenced for allegedly violating that nation’s Official Secrets Act, thus staying their sentence of 7 years in jail.

The reporters, Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were arrested in December 2017 while reporting on the massacre murders of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys. Independent investigations indicate the pair, who work for the Reuters News Service, was set up by the police.

Police officers in Myanmar escort Wa Lone in February 2018. The Reuters journalist was arrested in December 2017 and was sentenced to 7 years in prison. (VOA Burmese/Wikimedia Commons)

They have been incarcerated since then and were not present for the court ruling.

The investigation the pair pursued uncovered security forces’ involvement in killings, arson and looting against the Rohingya minority. After they were jailed, the reporting was continued by colleagues and published in 2018.

Last week, that work won the Pulitzer prize for international reporting.

There has been wide outrage against the majority-Buddhist nation’s persecution of the Rohingya population, which has been ongoing for decades but escalated in the summer of 2017, when a brutal military crackdown after a rebel group’s uprising sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh. Numerous international calls for action have gone unheeded.

Last December, the House approved a non-binding resolution by a 394-1 vote that called Myanmar’s military campaign against the Rohingya a genocide — a term rarely used because of legal connotations.

Police escort detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo in February 2018. In December 2017 he was sentenced to 7 years. (VOA Burmese/Wikimedia Commons)

In August, a United Nations’ commission said Myanmar’s top generals and commander should be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes against Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

The commission report documented mass killings, the scorching of Rohingya settlements and large-scale gang rape and other sexual violence by soldiers. Testimony of those interviewed underscored the brutality. As one victim of sexual violence told the mission team: “I was lucky; I was only raped by three men.”

In November 2017, the Trump administration denounced the wave of government-backed violence against ethnic Rohingyas in Myanmar (formerly Burma) as “ethnic cleansing,” and said targeted sanctions against those responsible for the atrocities could follow the designation. None have.

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