A court in Myanmar has sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison for violating a state secrets act while investigating violence against Rohingyas.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested while carrying official documents which had just been given to them by police officers.
They have maintained their innocence, saying they were set up by police.
The case has been widely seen as a test of press freedom in Myanmar.
“I have no fear,” Wa Lone, one of the two journalists, said after the verdict. “I have not done anything wrong. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.”
The two men, who both have families with young children, have been in prison since their arrest in December 2017.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and press freedom anywhere,” said Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler.
Judge Ye Lwin told the court in Yangon that evidence that the pair had “intended to harm the interests of the state”.
“And so they have been found guilty under the state secrets act,” he said.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had been collecting evidence about the execution of 10 men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine.
During their investigation, they were offered documents by two police officers, but were arrested immediately afterwards for the possession of those documents.
Authorities later launched their own probe into the killings, confirming the massacre took place and promising to take action against those who had taken part.
‘Deeply troubling verdict’
“We are extremely disappointed by this verdict,” Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar, Dan Chugg said according to Reuters.
US ambassador Scot Marciel echoed the same criticism, saying the court’s decision was “deeply troubling for everybody who has struggled so hard here for media freedom”.
The UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby said the reporters “should be allowed to return to their families and continue their work as journalists”.
“We continue to call for their release.”
The verdict had been delayed once because of the judge’s ill health.
The ruling comes a year after the crisis in Rakhine state came to a head when a Rohingya militant group attacked several police posts.
The military responded with a brutal crackdown against the Rohingya minority. The UN has said leading army figures in Myanmar should be investigated and prosecuted for genocide.
Media access to Rakhine is strictly controlled by the government so it is difficult to get reliable news from the region.