U.N. chief decries Myanmar's prosecution of Reuters reporters

©Kyodo News

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres sees the prosecution of two Reuters reporters in Myanmar as "unacceptable" and will continue calling for their release, a spokesman said Tuesday.

"The secretary general remains concerned at the continued detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo," Stephane Dujarric said in a news briefing to reporters after Myanmar's top court rejected an appeal of their conviction.

"It is unacceptable that these journalists were prosecuted for reporting on major human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State," he said. "We must continue to advocate and work towards their release and to strengthen the protection of journalists."

Myanmar's Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by two Reuters journalists sentenced to seven years in prison for breaking a colonial-era official secrets law.

Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were arrested in December 2017 while investigating the extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya Muslims by security forces in strife-torn Rakhine State in the country's west.

The situation surrounding the reporters, both Myanmar citizens, has drawn condemnation from journalists, diplomats and human rights groups for what they see as an assault on press freedom and as a grave setback for Myanmar's fledgling democracy.

Under the Supreme Court law, the reporters' legal team can file an appeal against Tuesday's ruling with a special appellate bench, which includes the chief justice among its panel of judges.

Despite claiming entrapment, the two men were found guilty by a district court in September last year of violating the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison. The Yangon High Court rejected an earlier appeal in January.

During the reporters' trial, a former police captain who testified as a prosecution witness disclosed that that a police brigadier general had ordered officers to meet the Reuters journalists at a restaurant, give them "secret documents" and then arrest them as they left.

The journalists were subsequently detained outside a restaurant on the outskirts of Yangon, found in possession of classified police documents and arrested.

The pair was among Reuters staff who won this year's Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for their investigation into the massacre of the 10 Rohingya Muslims.