7 Day Daily, one of Myanmar’s most widely read newspapers, partially blacked out its front page and carried an editorial headlined “A sad day for Myanmar”, a day after two Reuters reporters were sentenced to seven years under the Official Secrets Act.
The privately owned newspaper said the sentences “end the hope that the current government will value and respect media freedom”, adding that the government had earned a reputation for oppressing the media, as previous military governments had done.
“Everyone needs to be aware that democracy will not survive in an information dark age,” the newspaper said.
Myanmar abolished direct media censorship in 2012, as part of reforms by a quasi-civilian regime that led to elections in 2015 won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.
Several Myanmar news outlets and dozens of civil society groups denounced the jailing of the two reporters and said their conviction was an assault on the right to freedom of information.
A court found the two journalists guilty on Monday in a landmark case seen as a test of progress towards democracy in Myanmar, which was ruled by a military junta until 2011.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were investigating the killing of villagers from the Rohingya Muslim minority by security forces and civilians when they were arrested in December. They had pleaded not guilty.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay could not be reached for comment about the verdict either on Monday or Tuesday.
Deputy Information Minister Aung Hla Tun rejected the suggestion that the verdict was a blow to press freedom but acknowledged that some laws were “not friendly” to the media, including the Official Secrets Act under which the two reporters were convicted.
“This legislation was not enacted by this government, we inherited it,” he told Reuters. “We’re trying to review the laws. Some will be abolished, if necessary, and some amended.”
An editor of the Irrawaddy online news magazine, Kyaw Zwa Moe, said Suu Kyi and President Win Myint had to understand the case was about the people’s right to know.
“There is nothing wrong in what these particular Reuters reporters did; like any journalists they were simply doing their jobs by attempting to gather information so as to uncover the truth,” wrote Kyaw Zwa Moe, who was a political prisoner during military rule.
The privately owned Myanmar Times carried a full, front-page back-and-white photograph of Kyaw Soe Oo, in handcuffs and surrounded by reporters as he left the court, saying the verdict was a “blow to press freedom”.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported the facts of the verdict in four paragraphs on an inside page. It did not mention any criticism of the ruling but noted that the defence could appeal.
with inputs from Reuters