The Irrawaddy

Local Condemnation for Reuters Journalists’ Verdict

MANDALAY — Nine Myanmar journalist networks issued a joint statement on Tuesday condemning the verdict of the two Reuters reporters and urging the government to do everything possible to achieve justice.

The statement said that since the reporters were framed and unjustly sentenced to seven years in prison, the government must act in accordance with the law and serve justice, as the verdict is a threat to press freedom.

“The government must do everything they can according to the law for the justice of the jailed Reuters reporters and promote freedom of press which is dramatically declining,” said the statement.

The statement also said that press freedom is declining under the governance of the ruling party, the National League for Democracy, as since they took up office in April 2016, there have been a series of lawsuits against news agencies and journalists causing fear in journalists who are doing their job.

“In the face of the international community, Myanmar has become a country where the standard of press freedom is declining and the government should see this as a threat which affects the country’s transition towards democracy,” said the statement, highlighting the verdict of the two Reuters reporters under the Official Secrets Act on Monday.

The statement was signed by the Myanmar Journalist Network, Myae Latt Journalist Network, Magway Journalist Network, Taunggyi Journalist Association, Chin Media Network, Southern Myanmar Journalist Network, MJN (Ayeyarwaddy), Myanmar Women Journalists Society and Monywa Journalist Network.

The Myanmar Press Council (MPC) also issued a statement on Tuesday, saying the sentencing of the two journalists neglects the Constitution and existing media laws.

“Sentencing the Reuters reporters with a 1923 colonial-era law, which cruelly oppresses journalists, is neglecting the Constitution and the existing media laws,” said the statement from MPC.

“This incident not only affects the right to information but also the flow of information to the people, which could seriously affect the image of the country,” the statement added.

News of the verdict has become headline news for many local media outlets and sparked disappointment and sadness among journalists across the country.

On Tuesday, nearly every privately-run newspaper in Myanmar made the Reuters case front page news.  The 7Day Daily newspaper also showed its solidarity with the jailed reporters by putting a black column at the center of the front page of the Tuesday issue.

However, this was not the case for state-owned papers: the story was tucked inside the three newspapers published by the Ministry of Information.

Many local journalists showed their solidarity and disappointment by changing their Facebook cover photos and profile pictures to those of the two reporters, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, featuring the text ‘Journalism is not a Crime’ or ‘Free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.’

Journalists in Mandalay and Pyay took to the streets to show their solidarity with the reporters.

In Mandalay, about 30 local journalists wearing black got together and went to Maha Muni Pagoda to pray for the release of the jailed reporters on Monday.

In Pyay, on Tuesday, demonstrators held a campaign expressing their condemnation of the sentencing of the two journalists and urging the government to free them immediately. It was led by local journalists with the participation of political activists and university students.

Meanwhile, journalists across the country are collecting signatures for a petition that will be sent to President U Win Myint calling for the immediate release of the reporters. They expect to gather 20,000 signatures from across the country from journalists, political activists and other people who want justice and freedom of the press.