Myanmar’s Supreme Court agreed to rule Tuesday on an appeal by two Reuters journalists who have been sentenced to seven years for their news coverage of Myanmar’s violent suppression of Rohingya Muslims.
Justice Soe Naing adjourned the case without setting a date for the ruling, but Tuesday’s decision means the journalists’ lawyers and the judge will meet again.
The judge could sustain the appeal if he determines legal procedures were violated by lower courts. If such violations occurred, lower court rulings would be withdrawn, raising the possibility the reporters could be freed, have their jail terms reduced, or face new judicial action, according to the reporters’ lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw. He cited 13 grounds on which he believed judicial procedure was violated.
The journalists have been convicted of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. Their conviction has been denounced by rights groups, Western governments and international news organizations. The reporters have been behind bars since they were arrested in December 2017 while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslim civilians involving Myanmar soldiers. Their convictions put more pressure on Myanmar leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who assumed power in 2016 during a transition from military rule.
Supporters of reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo maintain they were framed because of the government’s displeasure over reporting of its military crackdown on the ethnic Rohingya minority group in Rakhine state.
Critics, including the United Nations, have described Myanmar’s military campaign as ethnic cleansing or genocide. U.N. investigators said last August that, “Top military commanders in Myanmar should be investigated and prosecuted for the ‘gravest’ crimes against civilians under international law, including genocide.”
Steve Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists told VOA’s Burmese language service the reporters’ arrests were a “sham,” and added, the “evidence is not credible and they never should have been convicted.”
More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since the crackdown began in August 2017, according to U.N. estimates.