The seven-year jail sentence handed down to two Reuters journalists arrested in Myanmar while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims was condemned worldwide as a travesty of justice and severe blow to press freedom in the south-east Asian country.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were found guilty on Monday of breaching the Official Secrets Act, under laws introduced in 1923 under British rule.
They have been held in prison since December, when they were arrested while reporting on an alleged killings of 10 Rohingya at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Inn Din, a village in the north of Rakhine state.
The sentences, and the lack of condemnation from Aung San Suu Syi, the Nobel peace prize winner and now state counsellor, a position akin to prime minister, led to claims that her international reputation was now in shreds.
As he was led to a police van in handcuffs, one of the reporters, Wa Lone, said: “I have no fear. I have not done anything wrong … I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.” Kyaw Soe Oo hugged his sobbing wife until police took him away.
In his ruling, judge Ye Lwin said the men “tried many times to get their hands on secret documents and pass them to others. They did not behave like normal journalists”.
The new UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said she was shocked by the case, and called for the two men’s unconditional release. “The reporters’ coverage of the Inn Din massacre by the military … was clearly in the public interest.”