Journalists and rights groups rallied in downtown Yangon on Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the detention of two Reuters journalists, who are serving seven-year sentences for reporting on a massacre of Rohingya by the military in Myanmar.
Protest organisers handed out flyers and shirts that read “Journalism is not a crime!” and called for the reporters’ release.
The two reporters were among a group of journalists named by Time magazine as its “Person of the Year.”
The demonstrators near Myanmar’s High Court carried placards with the cover of some editions of Time’s next issue that show a picture of the men’s wives holding photos of their husbands. They also released black balloons into the sky and lit candles.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested by plain-clothes police on December 12, 2017, after being “entrapped” in a setup by a senior police official with the aim of suppressing their reporting, according to a police officer who was involved in the Inn Din massacre, which took place in September 2017 in northern Rakhine state.
The massacre is one of several documented by UN investigators, who say that so-called counterinsurgency operations in the area, starting in August 2017, were carried out with “genocidal intent.”
In February, Reuters published a detailed account of the massacre and, in April, a military tribunal sentenced seven soldiers to 10 years in prison for murder.
Myanmar’s military campaign drove 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. There have been many reports of mass killings, gang rape and the torching of entire villages.
Journalists and rights groups renewed calls for the reporters’ unconditional release and for the courts to overturn their convictions.
Maung Saung Kha, founder and executive director of Yangon-based freedom-of-expression advocacy group Athan and the protest’s organiser, spoke to the small crowd after lighting candles on the pavement.
“They were unjustly arrested – they were charged [under] an unjust law,” Maung Saung told journalists and protesters.
“Our demands remain the same: the immediate release of these two journalists,” he added, before asking the small crowd to observe a minute of silence.
Paling Soe Oo, one of the journalists who joined the rally, said Time’s focus on the jailed journalists was an honour for Myanmar and its journalism community.
“But I don’t think the government feels shame for its part, and isn’t considering releasing them, not even a little,” he said.