The seven year sentence handed down to the two Reuters journalists for their reporting on a massacre of Rohingya is just the latest slap in the face for those who courageously pursue truth and accountability in Myanmar. Their names – Kyaw Soe Oo (also known as Moe Aung) and Wa Lone (also known as Thet Oo Maung Maung) – are added to a long and storied list of activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and many more who have sacrificed their freedom and sometimes their lives for human rights, democracy, and justice. The bravery that motivates ordinary people of the country to act so selflessly is still present today, despite the pessimism that is clouding over.
Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone were sentenced to seven years each under the Official Secrets Act at a Yangon courthouse on 3 September, 2018. Their role in uncovering a massacre of Rohingya villagers by Myanmar security forces supported by some local civilian militias in Inn Din, Rakhine State was invaluable yet, after a set up by police, they were unjustly charged for being in the possession of secret documents. Speaking at an emotional press conference the day after the sentencing, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win stated, “My husband is an honest man who has done nothing wrong against the state. He works as a correspondent and he was put in prison for doing his job. That is unjust.” Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are not alone. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the total number of journalists awaiting trial is 18, most of whom are charged under Section 66(d) of the flawed Telecommunications Law.
Journalists and civil society organizations were quick to show their support for the Reuters duo, including petitions for their release, prayers, online social media activities, street demonstrations, and the printing of a blacked out front column by the 7Day Daily newspaper. A statement by nine journalist networks articulated the state of media freedom in Myanmar today, “In the face of the international community, Myanmar has become a country where the standard of press freedom is declining and the government should see this as a threat which affects the country’s transition towards democracy.” A statement by 83 civil society organizations also expressed their support, “We take this as a crackdown on the right of access to information and media freedom, and an oppressive gesture on all concerned people of Myanmar who are aspiring and building for a society characterized by rule of law, accountability, and justice.”
While not all current and former members of the media showed the moral fortitude to give this support, with some prominent figures still defending the deceit of the authorities, those who are standing in solidarity are the journalists which represent the best hope for the future of reporting in Myanmar.
It is not only journalists that stand tall in the face of enormous pressure. The trial of demonstrators Lum Zawng, Zau Jat, and Nang Pu, facing charges of defamation for comments they made about the Myanmar military, started on 3 September after three months of pre-trial hearings. They participated in demonstrations in Myitkyina, Kachin State in April, demanding the release of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were trapped after suffering from the military offensives of the Myanmar military against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Their comments at a press conference about the protests, in which they simply relayed the situation of the trapped IDPs to local press, was too sensitive for the military, which subsequently pressed charges to silence any criticism of their brutality using the outdated Penal code.
The bravery of people like Kyaw Soe Oo, Wa Lone, Lum Zawng, Nang Pu, Zau Jat, and the countless other people of Myanmar who stand up and oppose the violent, oppressive power of the Myanmar military and the shield of the Government which it hides behind is essential. Not only are these charges spurious and their cases must be repealed, these are the brave people that can lead Myanmar to a democratic future which respects truth, justice, and the rights of all people, regardless of ethnicity and religion. For those in the international community that still see hope for Myanmar, they must not continue to be deluded by the star power of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or the false promises of the Myanmar military. It is the brave activists on the frontline, making sacrifices, that must be invested in for a brighter future in Myanmar.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
By 25 Kachin International Organizations
By 83 Civil Society Organizations
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
By Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
By Burma Campaign UK
By Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide
By Fortify Rights
By Fortify Rights
By Human Rights Watch
By International Criminal Court
By International Federation for Human Rights, Odhikar and Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
By International Federation for Human Rights and Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
By Shan Human
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”