Myanmar says court in Reuters reporters’ case was independent

Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo leave Insein court after listening to the verdict in Yangon, Myanmar. REUTERS/Stringer

YANGON: Myanmar’s government spokesman said on Friday a court that convicted two Reuters journalists under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act was independent and followed due process, after international calls for the pair to be released.

A judge on Monday found Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, guilty of breaching the law on state secrets and sentenced them to seven years in prison. The verdict was criticized by senior United Nations officials and governments including the United States, Britain and Bangladesh, as well as press freedom advocates in Myanmar and around the world.

“The Reuters case is the decision of the court and the court is independent,” spokesman Zaw Htay told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw, in the government’s first public comments on the case since the verdict. He said he would not comment further to avoid committing contempt of court.

The journalists, who pleaded not guilty, were investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers by the Myanmar security forces at the time of their arrest in December.

A crackdown by Myanmar soldiers and police in response to militant attacks last year drove about 700,000 Rohingya to flee western Myanmar for Bangladesh, according to UN agencies.

Zaw Htay said the government had not sought to influence the court, despite international pressure over the Rohingya crackdown, including a UN Security Council meeting on Myanmar in the week before the verdict.

“It means the court does not know about anything else and it continued to do its own process,” he said. “This (the verdict) happened and now we have more pressure. But this is proof that we have nothing to do with the court.”

On Thursday, the International Criminal Court ruled it had jurisdiction over Myanmar’s alleged deportation of Rohingya, paving the way for the court’s prosecutor to further examine whether there is sufficient evidence to file charges.

Zaw Htay declined to comment in detail on that ruling, but said the government would release a statement later responding to the decision.

Myanmar has previously said it was not subject to the court’s rulings since the country is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC. The court found it had jurisdiction because part of the alleged act of deportation took place in Bangladesh, which is an ICC member state.