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Reuters journalists lose appeal against 7-year sentence

Two Reuters journalists jailed for seven years for breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, while reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims, lost an appeal against their conviction on Friday.

“The verdict originally given was not wrong according to the law. The court decides to dismiss the appeal,” Aung Naing, the judge of Yangon Regional High Court said.

Reporters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in Yangon in December 2017 and later sentenced to seven years in jail for violating the state secrets act, a charge supporters say is trumped up.

“We hope for freedom for them,” Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer for the journalists, had told AFP on Thursday, adding that the pair would not be present in court.

Prosecutors said they had classified information regarding security operations in Rakhine state, from where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled during an army-led crackdown the United Nations has dubbed “ethnic cleansing”.

At the time of the arrest, they were probing a massacre of 10 Rohingya.

The two men have insisted they were the victims of a police set-up, pointing to testimony from a serving officer who said a superior ordered others to entrap them.

The trial was widely regarded as a sham and seen as punishment for their probe, sparking outrage around the world including from United States Vice President Mike Pence.

Outside the country, the two men have been hailed as heroes and jointly named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2018, alongside other persecuted and slain journalists.

But they have gained little sympathy within Myanmar.

The violent military campaign in 2017 forced more than 720,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh, with refugees bringing accounts of murder, rape and arson.

United Nations investigators have called for top generals to be investigated for genocide and singled out civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for criticism for failing to stop the crackdown.

The image of the formerly renowned champion of human rights has been further damaged by the Reuters trial, and she has yet to speak up in their defence.

Reporters Without Borders representative Daniel Bastard earlier said it would be “utterly devastating” if the court upholds the verdict.

“The message that Myanmar authorities would send is absolutely dreadful: seven years in prison, this is the price you’ll have to pay if you dare investigate subjects we don’t want you to.”

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