UN rights experts hail Myanmar journalists’ release

            By Erdogan Cagatay Zontur</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - UN human rights experts welcomed on Wednesday the release of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar but said they have serious concerns about the judicial process in the country and the fact that their guilty verdicts still stand.</p>  <p>Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who had been detained since December 2017, were each sentenced to seven years in prison last September for allegedly breaching a colonial-era law by investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017.</p>  <p>“While it is good news that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been reunited with their families and will not have to carry out the remainder of their sentences, their convictions under the Official Secrets Act have not been withdrawn and they should never have been prosecuted in the first place,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.</p>  <p>  “We remain terribly concerned about the state of media freedom and the democratic space in Myanmar. The authorities have a considerable way to go to in law, policy and institution-building to ensure a minimum level of democratic space, which is particularly important in the lead-up to national elections next year,” the statement said.</p>  <p>  The two Reuters journalists were among 6,520 inmates released Tuesday under a third round of pardons by Myanmar President Win Myint to celebrate the traditional New Year, which began April 17.</p>  <p>&quot;I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues,&quot; Wa Lone told a crowd of reporters after his release.</p>  <p>    <p> Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.</p>  <p>According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.</p>  <p>Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).</p>  <p>The UN has also documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- and brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. </p>  <p>In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity and genocidal intent.

Reuters journalists freed from Myanmar prison

            By Kyaw Ye Lynn</p>    <p><p>YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – Two Reuters journalists in Myanmar who had been jailed for exposing a massacre of Rohingya were freed early Tuesday after spending more than 500 days in prison.</p>  <p>  <p>Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were among 6,520 inmates released under a third round of pardons by President Win Myint to celebrate the traditional New Year, which began on April 17. </p>  <p>  <p>Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, confirmed the release of the journalists to Anadolu Agency.</p>  <p>  <p>&quot;We are now with them. They are freed,&quot; she said by phone.</p>  <p>  <p>The two were arrested in December 2017 and each sentenced to seven years in prison in September 2018 over their alleged breach of a colonial-era law for investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017.</p>  <p>  <p>Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.</p>  <p>  <p>According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.</p>  <p>Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).</p>  <p>More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the report, titled &quot;Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.&quot;</p>  <p>Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.</p>  <p>The UN has also documented mass gang rapes, killings – including of infants and young children – and brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces.</p>  <p>In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity and genocidal intent.

Myanmar: Reuters reporters excluded from mass pardons

By Kyaw Ye Lynn

YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – Two Reuters journalists who had been detained in Myanmar for their coverage of rights violations in the western Rakhine state were excluded from an upcoming pardon, their lawyers said on Friday.

Myanmar recently announced two rounds of presidential pardons in wake of the country’s mid-April new year, bringing amnesty for more than 16,000 prisoners.

Further releases are planned, the presidency said in a statement without giving further details.

However, two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, remain behind bars in Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told Anadolu Agency.

On Monday, the military-controlled Home Affairs Ministry said there were no political prisoners in Myanmar, but only people sentenced under the country’s existing laws and penal code for criminal acts.

However, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (Burma), (AAPP Burma), based in the western Mae Sot city of Thailand said at least 45 political prisoners remained convicted as of March since current government took office in 2016.

Another 94 await trial in prison, while 225 others are on bail pending trial, said the human rights NGO.

On Friday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the country’s parliament to repeal legislation criminalizing peaceful expression after a recent series of arrests of peaceful critics of the army and government.

"During military rule, Aung San Suu Kyi and many current lawmakers fought for free expression, yet now the NLD [National League for Democracy political party] majority in parliament has taken almost no steps to repeal or amend abusive laws still being used to jail critics," said the group’s Asia director Brad Adams.

Adams underlined that numerous governments and donors had made freedom for political prisoners the "cornerstone of their policy".

"At a time when Myanmar’s transformation to a rights-respecting democracy hangs in the balance, where are those same voices?" he said.

Myanmar: Reuters reporters in jail despite mass pardons

             By Kyaw Ye Lynn</p>    <p>YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - Myanmar announced Friday a second pardon for nearly 7,000 prisoners nationwide in wake of new year.</p>    <p>In a statement, the presidential office said that Win Myint signed the pardon for the release of 6,948 inmates across Myanmar, bringing the total number of prisoners recently released to 16,499 since the nation’s new year which starts on April 17.</p>    <p>Under the first presidential pardon on April 17, some 9,551 prisoners, including only two political prisoners, were released to mark the beginning of new year. </p>    <p>Further releases would be made, according to the statement which is void of details.</p>    <p>However, two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo -- who were imprisoned for their investigation into the rights violation by the security forces in the western Rakhine state --, are not included in the pardon, according to their lawyer.</p>    <p>The pair, who are among Reuters staff recently winning the Pulitzer prize for international reporting, were still behind bars in Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told Anadolu Agency by phone on Friday.</p>    <p>“As the statement mentioned there will be further pardons, family members are still hoping the release of their loved ones,” he said.</p>    <p>Meanwhile, Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (Burma), (AAPP Burma), based in the western Mae Sot city of Thailand, said the group is still waiting information on how many political prisoners were included.</p>    <p>“We don’t think a large number of political prisoners would be released,” Bo Kyi, secretary of the non-profit human rights organization, told Anadolu Agnecy by phone.</p>    <p>On Monday, military-controlled Home Affairs Ministry said that there are no political prisoners in Myanmar, but only people incarcerated are in prison under the country’s existing laws and penal code for criminal acts.</p>    <p>However, AAPP Burma said in a monthly chronicle for March that at least 45 political prisoners have been convicted since current government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi took office in March 2016.</p>    <p>Another 94 await trial in prison, while 225 others are on bail pending trial, said the human rights NGO.

US rips upholding of Reuters journalists' sentences

                 By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. on Wednesday strongly criticized the decision of Myanmar's Supreme Court to uphold the seven-year sentences of two Reuters journalists who reported on the extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims. </p>  <p>&quot;Burma’s Supreme Court decision yesterday to uphold the sentencing of Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, despite serious irregularities in the case against them, sends a profoundly negative signal about freedom of expression and the protection of journalists in Burma,&quot; State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement, using the U.S. government's preferred name for Myanmar. </p>  <p>Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were each sentenced to seven years in prison last September under a colonial-era law for allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act for investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine state. </p>  <p>&quot;The United States is deeply concerned by recent arrests of reporters, political activists, civil society members, and satirical performers in Burma,&quot; Ortagus added. &quot;We urge Burma to protect hard-earned freedoms, prevent further backsliding on recent democratic gains, and reunite these journalists with their families.&quot;</p>  <p>New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned Myanmar's government and military shortly after the ruling, saying both parties seem equally determined to extinguish any ability to question their misrule and rights violations when it comes to media freedom. </p>  <p>“These two journalists are just the most prominent victims of this pernicious campaign against freedom of expression that is rapidly spreading in all parts of the country,” said HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. 

Myanmar rejects appeal of jailed Reuters journalists

                             ADDS US STATE DEPT. STATEMENT</p>  <p>By Kyaw Ye Lynn</p>  <p>YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - A Myanmar court on Friday rejected an appeal by the two Reuters journalists, who were jailed for investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslim men by security officials in western Rakhine state.</p>  <p>Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were handed a seven-year sentence last September under a colonial-era law for allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act as they investigated the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine.</p>  <p>Lawyers of the journalists had filed their appeal against their conviction to a High Court in Yangon in November.</p>  <p>Judge Aung Naing, however, rejected the appeal on Friday, saying the jail term handed to the journalists is “a suitable punishment”.</p>  <p>Stephen J. Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief, called the court's rejection &quot;yet another injustice&quot; against the pair.</p>  <p>&quot;Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free,&quot; he said in a statement.</p>  <p>Defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said the journalists still can appeal to the Supreme Court in political capital Nay Pyi Taw within two months.</p>  <p>The U.S. voiced deep disappointment about the decision, saying the &quot;ruling casts doubt not only on freedom of expression in Burma, but also raises questions about Burma’s commitment to the rule of law.</p>  <p>&quot;We will continue to advocate at all levels for the just release of these brave journalists,&quot; State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement that used the U.S. government's preferred name for Myanmar.</p>  <p><br>  </p>    <p>- Nearly 24,000 Rohingya killed</p>  <p>The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.</p>  <p>Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).</p>  <p>In a recent report, Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience, the OIDA raised the estimated number of murdered Rohingya to 23,962 (± 881) from a Doctors Without Borders figure of 9,400.</p>  <p>More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, the OIDA report said, adding that 17,718 (±780) Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police. Over 115,000 Rohingya houses were also burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.</p>  <p>The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.</p>  <p>*Michael Hernandez contributed to this report from Washington</p>  <p> 

Myanmar rejects appeal of jailed Reuters journalists

             By Kyaw Ye Lynn</p>    <p>YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - A Myanmar court on Friday rejected an appeal by the two Reuters journalists, who were jailed for investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslim men by security officials in western Rakhine state.</p>    <p>Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were handed a seven-year sentence in last September under a colonial-era law for allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act as they investigated the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine.</p>    <p>Lawyers of the journalists had filed their appeal against their conviction to a High Court in Yangon in November.</p>    <p>Judge Aung Naing, however, rejected the appeal on Friday, saying the jail term handed to the journalists is “a suitable punishment”.</p>    <p>Stephen J. Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief, called the court's rejection &quot;yet another injustice&quot; against the pair.</p>    <p>&quot;Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free,&quot; he said in a statement.</p>    <p>Defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said the journalists still can appeal to the Supreme Court in political capital Nay Pyi Taw within two months.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>- Nearly 24,000 Rohingya killed</p>    <p>The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.</p>    <p>Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).</p>    <p>In a recent report, Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience, the OIDA raised the estimated number of murdered Rohingya to 23,962 (± 881) from a Doctors Without Borders figure of 9,400.</p>    <p>More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, the OIDA report said, adding that 17,718 (±780) Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police. Over 115,000 Rohingya houses were also burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

UPDATE – Khashoggi, 4 others chosen as Time Person of the Year

                              ADDS DETAILS THOUGHOUT; CHANGES HEADLINE TO 4</p>  <p>By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - Slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and a group of journalists were collectively chosen by Time Magazine as its Person of the Year on Tuesday. </p>  <p>&quot;As we looked at the choices, it became clear that the manipulation and abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley,” Time’s Editor-In-Chief Edward Felsenthal said in announcing the decision on the Today morning show.</p>  <p>&quot;We chose to highlight four individuals and one group who have taken great risks in pursuit of greater truths, starting with Jamal Khashoggi&quot; he added. </p>  <p>Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents at Riyadh's Istanbul consulate, shares the distinction with Filipina journalist Maria Ressa, Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, and the Maryland newspapers, the Capital Gazette.</p>  <p>&quot;The stout man with the gray goatee and the gentle demeanor dared to disagree with his country’s government. He told the world the truth about its brutality toward those who would speak out. And he was murdered for it,&quot; Time said of Khashoggi. </p>  <p>Saudi Arabia initially denied any role in Khashoggi's Oct. 2 disappearance before acknowledging he was murdered inside its Istanbul consulate.</p>  <p>RIyadh has sought to blame &quot;rogue agents&quot; for killing Khashoggi during a botched rendition operation, but the explanation has been met with skepticism by many, including a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers who insist the operation could not have been carried out without the knowledge of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. </p>  <p>&quot;His death laid bare the true nature of a smiling prince, the utter absence of morality in the Saudi-U.S. alliance and—in the cascade of news feeds and alerts, posts and shares and links—the centrality of the question Khashoggi was killed over: Whom do you trust to tell the story?&quot; Time wrote. </p>  <p>That question is a common thread in all of the others Time selected.</p>  <p>Ressa, who helms the Philippine online news website, Rappler, has worked to chronicle the drug war being carried out by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and its thousands of extrajudicial killings. </p>  <p>The Rappler was charged in November with tax fraud allegations that could send Ressa to prison for up to a decade. </p>  <p>Oo and Lone, the two Reuters journalists who were selected, have been jointly sentenced to seven years in prison for their work in Myanmar chronicling the deaths of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the country. </p>  <p>And the Capital Gazette was targeted in June by a gunman who stormed into the Annapolis, Maryland newsroom, fatally shooting five people inside.</p>  <p>&quot;This ought to be a time when democracy leaps forward, an informed citizenry being essential to self-government. Instead, it’s in retreat,&quot; wrote Time. </p>  <p> </p>  <p> 

Khashoggi, 3 others chosen as Time Person of the Year

             By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - Slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and a group of journalists were collectively chosen by Time Magazine as its Person of the Year on Tuesday. </p>  <p>&quot;As we looked at the choices, it became clear that the manipulation and abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley,” Time’s Editor-In-Chief Edward Felsenthal said in announcing the decision on the Today morning show.</p>  <p>&quot;We chose to highlight four individuals and one group who have taken great risks in pursuit of greater truths, starting with Jamal Khashoggi&quot; he added. </p>  <p>Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents at Riyadh's Istanbul consulate, shares the distinction with Filipina journalist Maria Ressa, Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, and the Maryland newspapers, the Capital Gazette.</p>  <p> 

UPDATE 6 – Myanmar slaps prison sentences on 2 Reuters journalists

UPDATES WITH REACTION FROM UN

By Kyaw Ye Lynn

YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – A Myanmar court on Monday sentenced two Reuters news agency journalists to seven years in jail for an investigation into the murder of Rohingya Muslim men by security officials.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison during the investigation into the murder of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine state.

Judge Ye Lwin of Yangon’s Northern District Court said each journalist was handed a seven-year term as they were found guilty of obtaining and possessing classified documents which they possibly transferred to insurgent groups that are fighting against the government.

Wa Lone said the ruling is unfair.

“We did nothing wrong, and we have no fear. We still believe in democracy and freedom of speech.”

“We will fight for justice until the end,” he said.

Defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung also said the ruling is unfair.

“We will do everything legally,” he added.

– Criticism

Following their conviction, the U.S. embassy called on Myanmar to release the journalists immediately, saying it is “a major setback” to the government of Myanmar's stated goal of expanding democratic freedoms.

"The clear flaws in this case raise serious concerns about the rule of law and judicial independence in Myanmar," it said in a statement.

France also slammed the sentencing and reiterated its call for the release of the two imprisoned journalists as well as allowing free access of the media in Rakhine.

"France reaffirms its constant commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and respect for these freedoms is a cornerstone of any democratic society," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Germany sharply criticized the court’s decision, with the government’s Human Rights Commissioner Baerbel Kofler saying it was a “serious blow” to press freedom in Myanmar.

“The two journalists were found guilty of treason based on a law from the colonial era. They have done nothing other than supporting the pursuit of truth in Rakhine [state],” she said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is concerned over the conviction and sentencing in Myanmar of the two journalists, said his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, in a statement.

“He urges the authorities to review their decision,” Dujarric added.

“It is unacceptable that these journalists were prosecuted for reporting on major human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

“The Secretary-General will continue to advocate for the release of the journalists. He calls for full respect of freedom of the press and all human rights in Myanmar,” he added.

The ruling also drew criticism from local and international rights groups.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it marks “a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights” under the government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who was accused of failing to stop the military atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.

"The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts’ willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities,” said HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams.

After their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were held incommunicado for two weeks, during which they were deprived of sleep and forced to kneel for hours during interrogation, according to the reporters and their lawyers.

“These convictions won’t hide the horrors against the Rohingya from the world,” said Adams.

“They merely reveal the precarious state of free speech in the country and the urgent need for international action to free these journalists.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned the ruling and reiterated its call for the immediate release of the reporters.

“The conviction of Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone is a terrible blow to press freedom in Myanmar,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement.

“As the justice system clearly followed orders, in this case, we call on the country’s most senior officials, starting with government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to free these journalists, whose only crime was to do their job. After a farcical prosecution, this outrageous verdict clearly calls into question Myanmar’s transition to democracy,” he added.

The London-based Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) also condemned the conviction of the two Reuters journalists, saying it signaled "another failure by the National League for Democracy administration to protect human rights and press freedom in Burma…and stands in stark contrast to the impunity enjoyed by the military for the crimes that these reporters exposed”.