By Kyaw Ye Lynn
A Myanmar court on Friday rejected an appeal by the two Reuters journalists, who were jailed for investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslim men by security officials in western Rakhine state.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were handed a seven-year sentence last September under a colonial-era law for allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act as they investigated the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine.
Lawyers of the journalists had filed their appeal against their conviction to a High Court in Yangon in November.
Judge Aung Naing, however, rejected the appeal on Friday, saying the jail term handed to the journalists is “a suitable punishment”.
Stephen J. Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief, called the court's rejection "yet another injustice" against the pair.
"Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free," he said in a statement.
Defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said the journalists still can appeal to the Supreme Court in political capital Nay Pyi Taw within two months.
The U.S. voiced deep disappointment about the decision, saying the "ruling casts doubt not only on freedom of expression in Burma, but also raises questions about Burma’s commitment to the rule of law.
"We will continue to advocate at all levels for the just release of these brave journalists," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement that used the U.S. government's preferred name for Myanmar.
Nearly 24,000 Rohingya killed
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
In a recent report, Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience, the OIDA raised the estimated number of murdered Rohingya to 23,962 (± 881) from a Doctors Without Borders figure of 9,400.
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, the OIDA report said, adding that 17,718 (±780) Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police. Over 115,000 Rohingya houses were also burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.
*Michael Hernandez contributed to this report from Washington