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Journalists’ conviction in Myanmar a message that press ‘cannot operate fearlessly’
by Michelle Bachelet
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
3 September 2018 (UN News)
Stressing that the legal process that led to the conviction of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar “clearly breached” international standards, Michelle Bachelet, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
Michelle Bachelet said that the convictions “send a message to all journalists in Myanmar that they cannot operate fearlessly, but must rather make a choice to either self-censor or risk prosecution.”
Earlier in the day, Kyaw Soe Oo (also known as Moe Aung) and Thet Oo Maung (also known as Wa Lone) were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on charges of violating, according to the High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR), the “ill-defined” Official Secrets Act.
Ms. Bachelet said that the two journalists’ coverage of the Inn Din massacre by the military – for which the military subsequently admitted responsibility – “was clearly in the public interest as it may otherwise never have come to light.”
“I call for their conviction to be quashed and for them to be released, along with all other journalists currently in detention for their legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” underscored the UN human rights chief.
Ms. Bachelet assumed her functions as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 1 September. She succeeds Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who held the position since September 2014.
UN independent human rights experts on the right to freedom of expression and on the rights situation in Myanmar denounced Mr. Oo and Mr. Maung’s convictions, calling it “a dark moment for Myanmar.”
“This is yet another clear signal of Myanmar’s distancing from international human rights law,” said David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country, in a joint news release issued by OHCHR.
“We regret that the court failed to recognise the importance of independent journalism, freedom of expression and the public’s right to know.”
The experts also said that they have previously expressed their grave concerns, and urged greater press freedom after the journalists’ detention.
“We urge the President to pardon the journalists, and if the case is appealed, for the court to take into account Myanmar’s human rights obligations and order their release,” they said. http://bit.ly/2wGeXO7
Myanmar: Reuters convictions a massive blow to the rule of law. (International Commission of Jurists)
The Yangon District Court’s decision today to sentence Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to seven years’ imprisonment for violating the Official Secrets Act deals a massive blow to human rights and the rule of law in Myanmar, said the ICJ.
“The Court’s decision effectively punishes these two courageous journalists for exposing human rights violations, following a grossly unfair trial,” said Frederick Rawski, Asia Pacific Director for the ICJ.
“The decision is a miscarriage of justice that inflicts needless suffering on them and their families, threatens freedom of expression, damages Myanmar’s global standing, and undermines its justice institutions all at once,” he added.
The ICJ has monitored the case since the journalists’ initial detention in December 2017.
As previously noted by the ICJ, the detention and trial has violated numerous basic fair trial guarantees.
The prosecutors had a duty to drop charges and the judge should have dismissed the case given the lack of evidence and the unlawfulness of detention because of fair trail rights violations.
“The case is emblematic of how the justice system ends up reinforcing rather than challenging military impunity,” said Rawski.
“The result undermines government claims that it can deliver accountability for human rights violations on its own, and does nothing to build trust that justice system can act independently and impartially after emerging from decades of military rule,” he added.
Members of security forces generally enjoy impunity for the perpetration of human rights violations, including for crimes under international law.
The ICJ has previously reported that victims and their families, as well as journalists, often face retaliation for publicizing human rights violations by the military.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December 2017, and held incommunicado for nearly two weeks, before being charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act for allegedly possessing documents related to the operations of security forces in northern Rakhine State, during “clearance operations.”
The two reporters had been reporting on human rights violations in Rakhine State, including the killing of Rohingya by the military in Inn Dinn Village.
In a report issued just last week, the UN Independent International Fact Finding Mission found that security forces had perpetrated crimes under international law during these operations, including crimes against humanity and possibly the crime of genocide.
The detention and prosecution of anyone, including journalists, based solely on the collection and publication of evidence relevant to serious human rights violations, is a violation of international law and standards on freedom of expression, the right to participation in public affairs and on the role of human rights defenders.
Legal options remaining for the journalists include appealing of today’s decision, and requesting a Presidential amnesty.
UN experts call on Myanmar to drop prosecution of Reuters reporters. (UN Human Rights Council)
A Myanmar court’s decision to continue pursuing a case against two Reuters reporters gives rise to grave concern for investigative journalism and the public’s right to information in the country, UN experts have said.
“We urge the prosecution to drop the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and we urge the Government to release both journalists immediately,” the experts said.
On 11 April 2018, a court in Yangon rejected a motion to dismiss the case against the two reporters. It scheduled a hearing for 20 April 2018 to hear additional prosecution witnesses.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were reporting on the widespread assault on the Rohingya population in Rakhine State when authorities arrested them on 12 December 2017. The authorities accuse the journalists of illegally acquiring information with the intention of sharing it with foreign media. On 21 December 2017, UN experts raised concern that the charges brought against the reporters under the 1923 Official Secrets Act are tantamount to the criminalisation of journalism in Myanmar.
On 10 April 2018, seven soldiers were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area for participating in a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in a village in Rakhine State.
“The perpetrators of a massacre that was, in part, the subject of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting have been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. And yet these two reporters face a possible 14 years imprisonment. The absurdity of this trial and the wrongfulness of their detention and prosecution are clear,” the experts said.
“We urge the Government to ensure not only the protection and release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. We also urge the Government to ensure that investigative journalism, especially journalism relating to human rights violations and the situation in Rakhine State, is duly protected in Myanmar.”
* The Special Rapporteurs are in contact with the Myanmar authorities concerning the case.
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UN urges China to release ethnic Uighurs detained in political re-education camps
by AFP, SBS News, OHCHR, agencies
30 Aug. 2018
United Nations human rights experts voiced alarm on Thursday over alleged Chinese political re-education camps for Muslim Uighurs and they called for the immediate release of those detained on the “pretext of countering terrorism”.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited estimates that up to one million Uighurs may be held involuntarily in extra-legal detention in China’s far western Xinjiang province.
Its findings were issued after a two-day review of China’s record, the first since 2009, earlier this month.
China’s foreign ministry rejected the allegations at the time, and said that anti-China forces were behind the criticism of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. It has never officially confirmed the existence of detention centers there.
China has said that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
But the panel decried China’s “broad definition of terrorism and vague references to extremism and unclear definition of separatism in Chinese legislation”. This could be used against those peacefully exercising their rights and facilitate “criminal profiling” of ethnic and religious minorities, including Uighurs, Buddhist Tibetans and Mongolians, it said.
In its conclusions, the panel said it was alarmed by: “Numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism.”
“We are recommending to China if this practice exists, to halt it. We are asking China to release people if they don’t have a legal ground to be detained,” panel member Nicolas Marugan told Reuters Television.
The independent experts regretted that there was no official data on people detained “for even non-threatening expressions of Muslim ethno-religious culture like daily greetings”.
During the review the experts said they had received many credible reports that around a million Uighurs are held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”. Panel member Gay McDougall described it as a “no-rights zone”.
The panel expressed concern over reports of “mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uighurs”, including through frequent police checks and scanning of mobile phones at checkpoints.
It also cited reports alleging that many Uighurs who had left China had been forced to return to the country, and it called on Beijing to disclose their whereabouts and status.
McDougall cited allegations that more than 100 Uighur students who returned to China from countries including Egypt and Turkey had been detained, with some dying in custody.
The UN panel urged China to allow Tibetans access to passports for foreign travel and to promote the use of the Tibetan language in education, the judicial system, and media.
“The reports that we have received say that Tibetan is not on an equal footing with Chinese Mandarin in Tibet,” Marugan said, adding that Tibetans had the right to speak their own language and for it to be preserved.
The panel asked China to report back within a year on its main concerns.
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