NEW YORK, The United States administration issued on Monday a sharp condemnation of the conviction of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar sentencing them to seven-year prison terms on charges of violating the country’s secrecy laws.

Washington described the sentencing as deeply troubling and called it a major setback in Myanmar’s path to democracy.

The US embassy in Myanmar complained about clear flaws in the legal process instituted against the two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and had raised serious concerns about the rule of law and judicial independence in Myanmar.

The two journalists, in detention since last December after meeting with two police officers at a restaurant in Yangon and given a stack of documents, were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, a relic of the British colonial rule enacted in 1923, when Myanmar was called Burma.

Both men denied seeking the documents.

The two journalists, handcuffed and held by police outside the court after their sentencing, spoke briefly to reporters before being put in a police vehicle and taken away. Protesters briefly blocked the police vehicle’s path as it left the court.

The Myanmar military, in particular, has reportedly been angry at the two journalists for covering the brutal military campaign in Rakhine state that has driven nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh since last August.

Their coverage concentrated on the massacre of 10 Rohingya by police and soldiers in the village of Inn Din.

The arrests of the two journalists led to strong criticism not only from the US but also from international human rights activists, who viewed the case as Myanmar’s first real test of freedom of expression after embracing democracy in 2016 following decades of repressive military rule.

The US embassy in Myanmar which, according to US sources, will actively pursue the two journalists’ case, has called for their immediate release and for an end to the arbitrary prosecution of journalists doing their jobs.

“The American people have long stood with the people of Myanmar in support of democracy, and we continue to support civilian rule and those advocating for freedom, reform, and human rights in Myanmar,” the embassy said.

US allies and Western governments have also impressed upon the Myanmar authorities to release the two journalists immediately and respect the freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, Knut Ostby, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, said the world body was “disappointed” with the court’s decision.

A highly critical report was issued last week by United Nations investigators probing the exodus of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar; the report called for accountability from those in Myanmar committing the gravest of crimes against civilians, including genocide.

The US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley, had lambasted the Myanmar authorities of carrying out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population.

Commenting after the guilty verdict against the two journalists by a Myanmar court, Haley expressed her outrage on Monday against the vast atrocities committed by the military.

It is clear to all that the Burmese (Myanmar) 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. We will continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release, Haley said.

Source: NAM News Network