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Lawyers plead for release of jailed Reuters reporters

Lawyers for two Reuters reporters imprisoned in Myanmar presented arguments in court on Monday in their appeal against seven years on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, (photo) were found guilty in September in a landmark case that gave rise to questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.

The reporters did not appear in court. Some family members attended, along with diplomats, including representatives of the United States, European Union, Britain and the United Nations.

The anniversary of their arrest was marked by newsrooms publishing photos of their staff flashing two thumbs up, a defiant gesture Wa Lone made at court that became synonymous with the two men’s resilience.

Their lawyers filed an appeal against the conviction in early November, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime.

After more than an hour of arguments by defence and prosecution lawyers the hearing was adjourned. The court did not give a date for a decision.

Appeal lawyer L. Khun Ring Pan, asked the judge, Aung Naing, to overturn the lower court’s decision and release the reporters. He said the lower court had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the defendants and prosecutors had failed to prove the reporters gathered and collected secret information, sent information to an enemy of Myanmar or that they had an intention to harm national security.

Before their arrest, the reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August last year.

The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to UN estimates.

The case has raised concern about the outlook for Myanmar’s transition after decades of harsh military rule.

Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said in a statement before the hearing the trial court had made egregious errors and the reporters should be released.

“We will explain to the appellate judge why, under the law, the only possible conclusion is that the appellate court must restore our reporters’ freedom and reaffirm Myanmar’s democratic principles,” Adler said.

Pan Ei Mon, the wife of Wa Lone, told reporters the couple had signed their marriage certificate at the same court two years ago.

“We want justice and we hope for the best,” she said after the hearing. ■