US Vice President Mike Pence has urged Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to release two jailed Reuters reporters.
Pence was said by a senior White House official to have urged the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo “multiple times” during a meeting today.
The two journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of breaching Myanmar’s official secrets act in June.
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They were arrested in December last year while investigating the massacre of ten Rohingya Muslim men and have been in custody ever since.
The news agency argues that the Burmese court “ignored compelling evidence of a police set-up, serious due process violations, and the prosecution’s failure to prove any of the key elements of the crime”.
Pence raised the case with Suu Kyi today when he met her on the sidelines of a summit in Singapore, Reuters has reported.
A senior White House official is said to have told journalists: “He raised the case of two Reuters journalists in particular and raised the request that a pardon could be made.
“They had a very candid exchange of views on that.”
The official added that Pence had asked Suu Kyi to pardon Lone and Soe Oo “multiple times”, but would not comment on her response.
In September, Pence tweeted that he was “deeply troubled” by the sentence handed down to Lone and Soe Oo “for doing their job reporting on the atrocities being committed on the Rohingya people”.
He added: “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be commended – not imprisoned – for their work exposing human rights violations and mass killings.
“Freedom of religion and freedom of the press are essential to a strong democracy.
“We call on the Government of Burma to reverse this ruling and release them immediately.”
Suu Kyi has faced calls to pardon the reporters from the international community, including United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said it was “not acceptable” they had been jailed for doing their job.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has also raised the case, telling Suu Kyi he was “extremely concerned”.
In her only public statement on the subject, Suu Kyi said in September: “They were not jailed because they were journalists, they were jailed because… the court has decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act.”
In a statement last week, Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said: “We filed an appeal today on behalf of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo because the trial court’s ruling was wrong.
“In condemning them as spies, it ignored compelling evidence of a police set-up, serious due process violations, and the prosecution’s failure to prove any of the key elements of the crime.
“Contrary to Myanmar law, it shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
“Now is the time for Myanmar to uphold its stated dedication to rule of law, freedom of the press, and democracy by ordering the release of our colleagues, whether on appeal or by granting the families’ request for a pardon.”
Picture: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha