Myanmar Court Rejects Release of Journalists Investigating Rohingya Crisis

Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel in Inn Din village Sept. 1 2017

Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel in Inn Din village Sept. 1 2017

The bloody incident in Inn Din village on 2 September is the only atrocity to which the military has admitted during its violent crackdown in northern Rakhine state, which has forced some 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border into Bangladesh since August previous year.

The government rejects the allegations and says it was defending itself against attacks from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which occurred on August 25.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in Yangon, Myanmar's main city, on 12 December a year ago.

The two had worked on Reuters' coverage of the crisis in Rakhine, where security forces' response to a Muslim insurgents' attack have driven almost 700,000 Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar's security forces launched brutal counterattacks against Rohingya Muslims after a Rohingya insurgent group attacked police outposts on August 25.

The two reporters have told relatives they were arrested nearly immediately after being handed some rolled up papers at a restaurant in northern Yangon by two policemen they had not met before, having been invited to meet the officers for dinner.

Myanmar has dismissed most such accounts but the army said on Tuesday seven soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years in jail with hard labour for participating in a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in a village in September. The reporters were arrested for allegedly collecting classified documents from their sources in the police.

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"For the military personnel under the Military Act 71, four military personnel and three soldiers will be sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor and to be permanently expelled from the army", the statement said.

The case has drawn global attention, with high-profile rights lawyer Amal Clooney joining the legal team representing the jailed journalists. "We journalists just did our job as we have the right of free press in a democracy and now we are facing the charge that could probably put us in prison for 14 years".

Wa Lone's wife Pan Ei Mon, who is pregnant with their first child, broke down in tears after the hearing, telling journalists, "Wa Lone told me "not to expect too much" but I'm always expecting as his wife".

"We are deeply disappointed with the court's decision", said Stephen J. Adler, Reuters' president and editor-in-chief.

On Wednesday, Kyaw Min Aung left the courtroom before reporters could ask him for comment on the ruling. "We will continue to do all we can to secure their release".

But Wa Lone, who turned 32 on Wednesday and was brought cake by his friends, still expressed optimism.

"I had much hope for today's hearing", she said.

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