Reuters Editor Responds To Prison Sentence For Journalists In Myanmar
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Two journalists working for Reuters in Myanmar have been found guilty of breaking a law on state secrets.
GREENE: This was the scene outside as the two journalists left the courthouse following the verdict. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December and charged. This is while they were investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the northern part of Myanmar. A judge has now sentenced them to seven years in prison. That massacre took place during a crackdown by the Myanmar army, sending hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh. Last week, the U.N. said the Myanmar military should be investigated for genocide. We're joined now by Reuters regional editor for Asia Kevin Krolicki. He works with the two journalists and was in the courtroom in the Myanmar capital when the verdict was handed down. I know this must be a very difficult day for your organization. We appreciate you taking the time. Welcome.
KEVIN KROLICKI: Thank you. It's a disappointing day.
GREENE: Yeah. What was the reaction in the courtroom?
KROLICKI: The courtroom - a district court in Yangon was packed today, even more than it has been. This case has been followed closely by a number of diplomatic delegations within Myanmar and seen rightly as a watershed for the free press in Myanmar. Halfway through today's hearing, the lights went out. The room went dark. And shortly after, the judge read the verdict. It's a heartbreaking moment for Wa Lone, for Kyaw Soe Oo, for their young families and for their colleagues.
GREENE: Did you say the room went dark? I mean, the lights went off. What was happening?
KROLICKI: The lights went out, and we lost power. It's not unusual. It's happened before. But it happened as the verdict came down today.
GREENE: That's so eerie, like almost some kind of metaphor that I'm trying to sort of confront as you describe it. Can you just tell me - remind me how your two colleagues were detained? I mean, the details of this case are pretty shocking.
KROLICKI: Yeah. You know, journalism is not a crime. That shouldn't be a political or controversial statement. Myanmar's own constitution safeguards the free press. And in this case, there was a real crime, and you referenced it. They were reporting at the time of their arrest in December on the mass killing of 10 boys - sorry, 10 men and boys in a village called Inn Din. A prosecution witness, a police officer, testified that he had been with other police when they talked about setting up Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and stopping this reporting. They were looking specifically at the involvement of Myanmar security forces in that killing. They met a police contact who handed them documents they didn't solicit and never had time to read. And shortly after they left that meeting on the outskirts of Yangon, they were arrested.
GREENE: That was the setup that you're describing. Even though they are now sentenced to prison, can you just tell us the impact of the reporting that they were able to do?
KROLICKI: Well, you know, there was a mass killing that would not have come to light had it not been for their reporting. You know, despite this attempt to stop that reporting and with their support, we published that story in February. And they believe - and we have drawn strength from their strength in all of this - that the truth matters, that facts matter. They're committed and professional journalists, but they also believe that doing their jobs and reporting is their contribution. It's their contribution to democracy in Myanmar and their way of securing a better future for the next generation.
GREENE: Speaking to Kevin Krolicki, who is the Reuters regional editor for Asia. Two of his colleagues have been sentenced to seven years in prison after their reporting in Myanmar. Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.
KROLICKI: Thank you.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we say the verdict was handed down in a courtroom in Myanmar’s capital. In fact, it took place in Yangon.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.