Myanmar Court puts Reuters Journalists Behind Bars
Myanmar witnesses the death of democracy and journalism

When the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the 2015 general elections, many had predicted a quick transition from military rule to full democracy. Suu Kyi’s plight for establishing democracy in Myanmar had started several decades ago, during which she faced several years of house arrest and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Following the victory of her party, she became the state counselor of Myanmar, a position akin to the Prime Minister. However, nobody could have predicted what was to happen next. The winds of change quickly turned bitter as the Nobel Laureate was condemned by the same organizations that once lauded her – for her lack of action and responsibility regarding the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in the country.

In October 2016, a series of clashes between the Rohingya insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), and the Myanmar government forces sparked tensions in the region. The incident led to the Burmese military to join forces with the local Buddhist population and carry out sectarian attacks on the region’s Rohingya Muslim civilians. Myanmar, predominantly a Buddhist country, had previously shown sparks of prevailing xenophobia among certain sects. The situation worsened in the state of Rakhine, and thanks to the bravery of a few journalists, the world became aware of the atrocities carried out in this ‘information black hole’. Reports of human-rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, arson, and infanticides reached the ears of the world. However, Suu Kyi remained silent on this issue and maintained her stance that no such incidents were occurring in the country.

Among the reporters that were regularly risking their life were Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28. During the reporting on the plight of Rohingya Muslims, they were looking into a specific incident that allegedly involved the death of 10 Rohingya civilians in Inn Din, a village in the north of Rakhine state. The duo had suspected that the civilians were killed by either Burmese soldiers or Buddhist villagers. During their investigation, they received a dinner invitation from Burmese Officers. Hoping that the officials would shed light into the killings, they gleefully accepted. Later, on arrival at the officer’s camp, they were detained.

Following their detainment, the duo was presented in front of a Myanmar judge. While they pleaded “not guilty”, the judge found them guilty instead. The judge accused them of breaching a law on state secrets and deemed them “enemies of the state”. The law was an archaic colonial-era Official Secrets Act. They were sent to the Insein prison in the capital, Yangon, sentenced to seven years in jail.

The judgment is seen as a landmark case of anti-democracy in the Southeast Asian country. Journalists from all across the world have condemned the decision and questioned the journalistic integrity under Suu Kyi’s regimen. Even Rohingya civilians have come across in protest of the journalists who risked their lives in bringing the plight of their people to the world.

It’s estimated that more than 700,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims had fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh during the course of a year, where they now live in refugee camps. Last week, the UN said Myanmar army generals should be investigated and prosecuted for “gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law”. However, many are still awaiting Suu Kyi’s comment on the issue for her failure to support the Rohingya’s and for jailing journalists who are merely carrying out their tasks.