Dozens of students, activists, and journalists took to the streets of Myanmar’s largest city Sunday to protest the sentencing of two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison.
Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested last December after meeting with two police officers at a restaurant in Yangon and given a stack of documents. They were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, which was enacted in 1923, when Myanmar was called Burma and was under British colonial rule. Both men have denied asking for the documents.
The two were sentenced to seven years in prison two weeks ago.
Protesters released black balloons bearing images of the two reporters in Yangon, holding signs and chanting slogans denouncing the guilty verdict against the two reporters.
Journalists inside and outside of Myanmar have condemned the decision of the court as an indication of the country’s shrinking press freedom.
A U.N. report released last week accuses Myanmar of using a host of specious laws to prevent independent journalists from doing their job, citing the arrests of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo as a particularly outrageous example of judicial harassment against the media in Myanmar.
But Myanmar de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended her country against criticism of the conviction, urging anyone who has criticized the verdict, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, to “point out” if there has been a miscarriage of justice.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation as an icon of democracy and human rights, earned during her years of detention by Myanmar’s former military regime, has been damaged by her failure to speak out against the brutal military campaign in Rakhine state that has driven nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh since last August.