‘Journalism is not a crime’: Reuters journalists mark 300 days in Burmese prison
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‘Journalism is not a crime’: Reuters journalists mark 300 days in Burmese prison

NEARLY 440 journalists from 40 countries called on Burma’s (Myanmar) government to immediately free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in prison “simply for doing the crime of exemplary reporting” on Rohingya mass killings.

Reporters showed their support at an investigative journalism conference in Seoul, South Korea. Brandishing banners saying “Journalism is not a crime,” the international journalists called not only for Burma to free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, but for all governments across the world to free imprisoned journalists an commit to free press.

“It’s a sad commentary on where the world is that we have far too many panels at this conference devoted to dealing with the harassment, hate and violence directed at journalists,” Reuters News chief operating officer Reg Chua told the crowd. “Forty-two journalists have been killed so far this year. And a record 262 imprisoned last year.”

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December and sentenced to seven years for breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Sunday marked the 300th day they’ve spent behind bars.

In September, Burma’s de facto leader Aun San Suu Kyi defended the jailing hitting back at global criticism of a trial widely seen as an attempt to muzzle the free press and cover up the military’s involvement in ethnic cleansing.

Speaking at the United Nations in New York last week, the pair’s defence lawyer, Amal Clooney, called on Suu Kyi to grant a pardon, saying she holds to “key to their liberty.”

“The government can, if it wants to, end it today. She knows that mass murder is not a state secret and that exposing it doesn’t turn a journalist into a spy,” Clooney said.

“[Suu Kyi holds] the key to truth and accountability, and the key to a more democratic and prosperous Myanmar. History will judge her on her response.”

A statement defending press freedom was read out at the conference on Sunday. Citing the increased and alarming levels of harassment, persecution, violence and imprisonment directed at investigative journalists, the group called on authorities worldwide to commit to protecting the press.

They demanded that those being held arbitrarily be freed and for an end of impunity for those who attack journalists.

Their calls come after reports of several gruesome deaths of journalists in recent weeks.

Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova was murdered in Ruse, her body was found in a park on Saturday.

Turkish officials said they have evidence Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered after going missing from a Saudi embassy last Tuesday.

Over 40 journalists were killed in the first six months of the year, according to a report from Reporters Without Borders.

The group called the figures “alarming” saying it was particularly disturbing after 2017 was one of the “deadliest years ever” for the media.