A travesty in Myanmar

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists imprisoned in Myanmar for doing their jobs, were sentenced Monday to seven years in jail. The decision represents a severe blow to Myanmar’s attempt to emerge from years of military dictatorship and engage with the world as a democratic actor.

The two reporters were found guilty of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act after receiving state documents in what appears to have been entrapment by police. Their reporting helped expose the murder of 10 Rohingya Muslim men by Buddhist villagers, Burmese soldiers, and paramilitary police, in an exposé that was published after their December 2017 arrest.

The sentencing of the two journalists has sparked condemnation from press freedom advocates and governing bodies around the world. “Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Reuters President Stephen J. Adler said in a statement. Calling the decision a “major step backward in Myanmar’s transition to democracy,” Adler added, “We will not wait while Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo suffer this injustice and will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days, including whether to seek relief in an international forum.”

RELATED: The absurdity of World Press Freedom Day: A brief history

US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel said the sentencing was “deeply troubling for everybody who has struggled so hard here for media freedom.” The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Southeast Asia representative called the verdict “a travesty of justice and will cast Myanmar as an anti-democratic pariah as long as [Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo] are wrongfully held behind bars.”

The conviction of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is only part of Myanmar’s crackdown against journalists reporting on government atrocities against ethnic and religious minorities in the country. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who serves as head of the country’s civilian government, has remained publicly silent about the case. Once a prominent political prisoner, her reputation has been severely tarnished by her unwillingness to speak out about the treatment of the Rohingya people or the jailing of the two journalists.

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With press freedoms under attack around the globe, the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo has become a symbol of excessive government crackdowns. Their sentencing marks a dark day for those who support a free and independent media. The Guardian reported that, as he was led to a police van in handcuffs, Wa Lone said, “I have no fear. I have not done anything wrong…I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.”

Below, more on the sentencing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and CJR’s coverage of their case.

  • Worldwide response: Reuters gathered statements from press freedom advocates, government figures, and international bodies. “It is clear to all that the Burmese military has committed vast atrocities. In a free country, it is the duty of a responsible press to keep people informed and hold leaders accountable. The conviction of two journalists for doing their job is another terrible stain on the Burmese government,” said US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. “We will continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release.”
  • Defending the press: In May, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon examined the difficult task of defending journalists when the deck is stacked against them.
  • From journalist to government mouthpiece: For CJR, Joshua Carroll wrote that, “In Myanmar, journalists have sided with the military against the Rohingya.”
  • A region in crisis: In Southeast Asia, “the last decade has seen an unprecedented rollback of journalistic freedom due to rising authoritarianism and social media’s amplification of hate speech,” writes Mei Fong for CJR.
  • On Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo: Shortly after the arrest of the two journalists, Antoni Slodkowski, Shoon Naing, and Thu Thu Aung described them as “two book lovers dedicated to their craft.”

 

Other notable stories:

  • Faced with a swift backlash, New Yorker Editor David Remnick cancelled Steve Bannon’s scheduled appearance at the magazine’s fall festival. Staffers and other invitees voiced their concerns shortly after Bannon was announced as a headliner, and Remnick said in a memo that he didn’t want readers and staff members to think he was ignoring their concerns. “I’ve changed my mind,” Remnick wrote. “There’s a better way to do this.”
  • The battle between Ronan Farrow and NBC spilled into public on Monday, as NBC News Chairman Andy Lack sent employees an analysis explaining why the network didn’t move forward with Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein, arguing that the piece was “not ready for air” when Farrow left NBC in August of last year. Farrow responded, arguing that the memo from Lack contained false and misleading statements. “I loved my time at NBC,” Farrow wrote. “It’s a place filled with talented, dedicated journalists, many of whom have reached out to me in frustration. They are owed an honest accounting of what happened.
  • For CJR, David Uberti analyzes John McCain’s final piece of political stagecraft. “Charting out a four-day procession from Arizona to Washington to Annapolis, choosing symbolic eulogists and pallbearers, the Arizona Republican sought to hearken back to a mythic era of politics,” Uberti writes. “And the Washington press corps lapped it up.”
  • Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd laments “the campaign to destroy the legitimacy of the American news media” and urges journalists to start fighting back in a piece for The Atlantic. He argues that the current state of affairs is the result of a decades-long attempt by figures stretching from the Nixon administration to the executives at Fox News to impugn the credibility of the press, and that mainstream journalists erred in attempting to stay out of the fray. “We not only failed to defend our work in real time from this onslaught; we helped accelerate the campaign to delegitimize the American press corps,” Todd writes.
  • The Village Voice shut its doors on Friday, leaving New York without one of its iconic sources of news and culture. CJR’s Alexandria Neason, a former Voice reporter, obtained audio of the alt weekly’s owner informing staff of his decision. “Today is kind of a sucky day,” Peter Barbey, who bought the paper in 2015, said. “Due to the business realities, we are going to stop publishing Village Voice new material.”

ICYMI: NBC accused of impeding Ronan Farrow’s reporting

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.