Criminal Law

'Justice System is regressing’: Court rejects Appeal by Reuters Reporters

Date: 11 January 2019; Type: Legal News; Source: Myanmar Times

Myanmar’s High Court has ruled to keep the two Reuters journalists in jail today, confirming their conviction and seven-year sentences of imprisonment on charges of breaking the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Calling the earlier sentences “a suitable punishment”, High Court Judge Aung Naing placed the burden of proof on 32-year-old Wa Lone and 28-year-old Kyaw Soe Oo, demanding them to provide sufficient evidence to prove their innocence.

For former Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, a member of the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Commission, the appeal rejection is “a travesty of justice”. She said “it is ever more difficult to understand what Myanmar’s leaders mean when they openly commit themselves to the rule of law and the importance of human rights.”

“Does the leadership understand the implications? This is not merely about one high-profile case. A dependable justice system is a critical cornerstone of any democracy and certainly of one in transition, like Myanmar.

“Today’s verdict sends a strong message to all those inside and outside Myanmar who are interested in investing in its future, that the justice system is regressing and cannot check the power of the other branches of government,” she commented.

Similarly, the European Union’s foreign affairs spokesperson said throwing off the appeal is “a missed opportunity to right a wrong”, and “another setback to media freedom, the public's right to information and the rule of law in Myanmar.”

“We now appeal to the president [U Win Myint] that he considers correcting this injustice that has been made,” said Kristian Schmidt, EU Ambassador to Myanmar, outside the courtroom.

A statement released by Reuters editor-in-chief criticised the ruling “as yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

Whether the two journalists will file an appeal to the Supreme Court depends on further discussions with the journalists and their families, defence lawyer U Than Zaw Aung said immediately after the ruling. To make another appeal, they must file the case within 60 days.

The lower court in September 2018 handed down the verdict for the two young journalists. The decision led to an international backlash and widespread doubts on Myanmar judicial independence, press freedom and democratic transition. A Singapore think tank said last year that the jailing merits the attention of the business community.

In the Democracy Index 2018 published by The Economist, the jailing was cited as a “dampener” for the democratic progress in Asia. Though the authorities have repeatedly claimed that the verdict had nothing to do with their work, many see the imprisonment as a response to their coverage on the atrocities committed by the military in northern Rakhine.

“Myanmar's courts continue to disappoint on everything from lack of independence from the military and government to inability to effectively reason and rule based on obvious evidence,” said Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch. “The appeals court process looks like it was just a re-run of the previous injustice done to these two reporters who dared investigate what the military wanted to keep hidden.”

In a statement, Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s director of crisis response, also blasted the court decision as playing “in the hands of the Myanmar authorities’ attempt to hide the truth about the atrocities committed in Rakhine.”

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