Myanmar’s conviction of two Reuters news service reporters on fabricated charges — just the latest development in a global assault on journalism — is an obscene miscarriage of justice by a government complicit in carrying out genocide against members of the minority Muslim Rohingya.
That damning description isn’t just rhetoric, but the judgment of a United Nations fact-finding mission documenting genocide against the Rohingya. There also are charges of humanitarian crimes against other ethnic Myanmar minorities in the Southeast Asian nation. Accused are Myanmar’s top army commander and five other top generals. All should stand trial for these atrocities.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. Most live in deplorable conditions. But they’re among the lucky ones: Scores have been brutally murdered, women and girls have been gang raped, and other crimes have been committed against the minority group. Just one episode in the slaughter is what journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone were trying to chronicle for Reuters and, by extension, the world.
The two were later asked to meet with a police colonel, who at the end of a meeting handed them rolled-up papers that the journalists did not request or read. Almost immediately afterward, they were arrested. A compliant judge completed the frame-up by convicting and sentencing the two reporters to seven years in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act.
This travesty justifies an international outcry. To free the journalists, yes, but more broadly to flag Myanmar’s atrocious human rights record.
This sham is “a signal to journalists and the wider international community of observers who are critical of the military operation,” Hunter Marston, a fellow with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, told an editorial writer. It’s to tell them that “this is a no-go area, that you don’t talk about this, and that there is a zero-tolerance policy for any criticism of the military and implicating it in the ongoing genocide.”
But criticize and implicate is what responsible international organizations and nations must do. And they must go beyond the murderous military leaders to include Myanmar’s complicit political leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi, whose 1991 Nobel Peace Prize is now as fraudulent as the journalists’ convictions.
On Aug. 17, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s security forces for their role in “ethnic cleansing” and “widespread human rights abuses” against other ethnic minorities. The U.S. can and should do more, and bring allies along, even if China and Russia reprise their familiar, immoral, role of blocking any consequential U.N. Security Council action.
Regarding the reporters, “It’s important that the United States continue to be strong and condemn these types of acts carried out against journalists,” Margaux Ewen, Reporters Without Borders’ North American director, told an editorial writer. Grim statistics on journalists jailed and killed underscore the need for the U.S. to be a beacon of press freedom.
According to Reporters Without Borders, so far this year 53 professional journalists, 10 citizen journalists and three media assistants have been killed worldwide, while 159 professional journalists, 143 citizen journalists and 19 media assistants are imprisoned. This isn’t only a threat to the intrepid reporters braving such conditions, but to democracy itself, according to the organization’s World Press Freedom Index.
President Donald Trump should not only drop his hostility to the news media; he should reconfirm America’s leadership on the issue. And on a broader level he should lead efforts to hold Myanmar’s leaders to account.