A Myanmar judge on Monday sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison, ruling that the men violated the law when they obtained confidential documents in their reporting on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law, Reuters reported. The two men had been jailed since December.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere," Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said in a statement.
"Without any evidence of wrongdoing and in the face of compelling evidence of a police set-up, today’s ruling condemns them to the continued loss of their freedom and condones the misconduct of security forces," he continued. "This is a major step backward in Myanmar’s transition to democracy, cannot be squared with the rule of law or freedom of speech, and must be corrected by the Myanmar government as a matter of urgency."
Adler said the organization would evaluate its next steps in the coming days, including whether to seek assistance through an international entity.
The two journalists testified that police officials provided them the documents in question at a restaurant in the city of Yangon. Moments later, other officers arrested them, Reuters reported.
One police witness told the court that the restaurant meeting was meant to entrap the reporters following their reporting on Rohingya Muslims, Reuters reported.
The journalists had been working on stories about military persecution of Rohingya Muslims, which has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
Myanmar, perviously known as Burma, has moved toward civilian rule in recent years after decades under a military junta, though the military retains significant power. Monday's ruling alarmed press advocates and raises concerns that the country may be pulling away from the democratic rule.