Yellow Ribbon Project

Lawmakers, Pence: 'Immediately' Free Burmese Journalists Jailed for Reporting on Killings of Rohingya

Lawmakers, Pence: 'Immediately' Free Burmese Journalists Jailed for Reporting on Killings of Rohingya
Reuters journalist Wa Lone talks to journalists as he is escorted by police from court in Yangon, Myanmar, on Sept. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

Vice President Mike Pence joined human-rights-minded members of Congress in calling for justice in the case of two Reuters journalists jailed by Burma Monday.

A judge ruled that Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who were detained Dec. 12, “have breached Official Secrets Act section 3.1.c, and are sentenced to seven years.” The two were investigating the killing of Rohingya villagers by Burmese security forces

Burmese officials set up a meeting in which the two reporters were invited for dinner; there, they were handed documents by two policemen. The journalists didn’t even have time to look at the documents, which the government said contained state secrets useful “to enemies of the state and terrorist organizations,” before other officers quickly arrested them. One police witness testified that it was an entrapment operation.

On Tuesday, the wives of the two journalists made an emotional appeal to de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the husbands’ release, arguing they “were just doing their jobs as reporters” and had committed no wrongdoing.

“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Reuters editor in chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement. “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.”

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley declared that “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,” she said. “The conviction of two journalists for doing their job is another terrible stain on the Burmese government. We will continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) stated that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo “are guilty of nothing but reporting the facts about the horrific attacks on Burma’s Rohingya Muslim minority.”

“This unjust verdict reaffirms that the Burmese government is complicit in the military’s atrocities. The U.S. should respond with more sanctions and a formal determination of genocide,” Royce said. “We must act before it is too late.”

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, said in a joint statement that “the decision to jail these journalists for simply doing their jobs is unacceptable and represents another significant step back for Burma’s democratic transition and the rule of law, which have already been badly damaged by the atrocities against the Rohingya that these journalists exposed to the world.”

“The Burmese government should immediately release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, or face consequences from the international community,” Gardner and Markey said. “Unless these journalists are immediately freed, the United States Treasury Department should consider imposing sanctions on every high-ranking Burmese official that authorized or participated in the decision to unjustly jail these reporters.”

Pence chimed in on Twitter, lending support to the reporters without calling for punitive measures: “Deeply troubled by the Burmese court ruling sentencing 2 @Reuters journalists to 7 years in jail for doing their job reporting on the atrocities being committed on the Rohingya people.”

“Wa Lone & Kyaw Soe Oo shd be commended—not imprisoned—for their work exposing human rights violations & mass killings. Freedom of religion & freedom of the press are essential to a strong democracy. We call on the Gov’t of Burma to reverse this ruling & release them immediately,” Pence tweeted.