Civil society groups on Tuesday urged Myanmar to release the two Reuters journalists who were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating an archaic secrets act while investigating the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.
A Myanmar court on Monday had sentenced reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to seven years in prison for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, reports Efe news.
"We strongly condemn punishment of the two journalists for simply carrying out their media work. The decision indicates that the entire trial process was neither free nor fair and was completely manipulated," the 83 groups said in a joint statement.
The journalists were arrested on December 12 allegedly in possession of confidential documents, handed over to them by police officers, while they were investigating the murder of a dozen Rohingyas by the military.
"We believe that the decision by the court is irrational and the case brought against the two journalists was framed to justify the arrest and imprisonment of them," said the letter.
"We take this as a crackdown on the right of access to information and media freedom and an oppressive gesture on all concerned people of Myanmar who are aspiring and building a society characterized by the rule of law, accountability, freedom and Justice," the letter added.
The reporters were investigating a mass grave of 10 Rohingyas in the village of Inn Din in the Rakhine state, which had subsequently led to the conviction of seven Burmese soldiers to 10 years in prison.
The reporters have pleaded innocence and claimed that they were set up.
Their claim coincides with the testimony of Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, who in April declared that a senior official had ordered him and other subordinates to hand over secret documents to Wa Lone to trap him, an allegation the police denies.
The Inn Din massacre was part of an Army campaign in Rakhine, following a series of attacks by Rohingya rebels on multiple government posts in August last year.
The offensive led to the exodus of around 700,000 Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic minority, community to neighbouring Bangladesh where they now live in overcrowded refugee camps set up by the UN and nonprofits.
Last week, the UN had published a report that claimed there were elements of intentional genocide in the army offensive against the Rohingyas.
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