On Tuesday, Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters reporters who have been jailed in the country since December 2017, accused of disseminating state secrets pertinent to national security.
The landmark case in which the journalists were sentenced to seven years behind bars last September has become a symbol of Myanmar’s crumbling press freedoms.
Reuters chief counsel Gail Gove described the allegations as a sham.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not commit any crime, nor was there any proof that they did,” she said. “Instead, they were victims of a police setup to silence their truthful reporting. We will continue to do all we can to free them as soon as possible.”
At the time of their arrests, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine, a state on the country’s western coast. According to the report, the killings were carried out by Myanmar troops and Buddhist villagers.
The story was filed in February 2018 as the journalists sat in jail, and led to the imprisonment of seven soldiers connected to the violence.
The article was one within a trove published by the reporters as they covered the murders of Rohingya Muslims, which the U.S. House of Representatives has declared to be part of an ongoing genocide.
WhenWa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were apprehended, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the arrests were likely “because they were reporting on what they have seen in relation to this massive human tragedy.”
During their sentencing, Judge Ye Lwin claimed it was determined that “confidential documents” discovered on them would have been valuable “to enemies of the state and terrorist organizations.”
The rejected appeals have sparked backlash from the other members of the press and free speech advocates.
Committee to Protect Journalists senior Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin condemned the court’s ruling.
“Myanmar authorities have committed a grave injustice to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their families, and criminalized independent journalism,” he said in a statement. “They should both be free and able to continue their reporting, not sitting in jail cells. Their conviction and sentence will be an enduring stain on Myanmar’s reputation.”
Responding to the news in a tweet, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who staked her career on international reporting, pointed out that the captive reporters had recently won a Pulitzer Prize for their work.
“Myanmar has seriously damaged even the pretense of a transition to democracy,” she wrote. “We appeal for their immediate freedom.”
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are now hoping to receive a presidential pardon.