The wives of the two Reuters journalists sentenced to seven years of hard labor in Myanmar said their husbands were innocent Tuesday as their lawyer confirmed they would appeal the sentence.
Kyaw Soe Oo, 28 and Wa Lone, 32, have been detained since December, accused of obtaining secret state documents while covering the Rohingya crisis in a case widely seen as a test of press freedom in the Southeast Asian nation.
On Monday a judge gave them a seven-year prison sentence, causing outrage around the world.
Chit Su Win, the wife of Kyaw Soe Oo, broke down in tears at a press conference in Yangon as she insisted her husband was innocent.
She said the two men “were just doing their jobs as reporters” and that her husband “was a good citizen who hadn’t committed any wrongdoing.” She said she hoped “the country would have mercy.”
Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, told journalists that they had already directly petitioned President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as seven other government bodies, but that they only got a response from one parliamentary commission, acknowledging it had received their letter.
“As mother to mother, she wants to tell Aung San Suu Kyi about her daughter. Her daughter is now about 3 years of age and is very affectionate to her father. Her child asked her ‘mother, mother, why doesn’t father come back to us, doesn’t he love you, is that why he isn’t coming home?’ ” said the journalists’ lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, of Chit Su Win.
Pan Ei Mon gave birth a couple of weeks ago to a girl, named Thet Htar Angel. She is the couple’s first child.
The journalists’ lawyer confirmed they would appeal the sentence. Under Burmese law, they have 60 days to do so.
Myanmar military operations forced more than 700,000 Rohingya, a minority Muslim group, to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
Reuters stands by the reporters and the investigation, which included photographic evidence of a massacre, editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said.
The men were detained before the story published in February, suggesting that the government arrested them in an attempt to confiscate the photos and prevent the report from publishing, Adler said.
Both journalists had fearlessly reported on the conflict between Myanmar and the Rohingya ethnic minority which the United Nations has described as a form of “ethnic cleansing.”
Amid defense arguments that the two journalists had been set up, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet demanded that the seven-year sentence 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.”
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson also condemned the decision as a display of the government’s fear of the kind of “critical commentary customarily found in a real democracy.”
The US ambassador to the United Nations called for their “immediate and unconditional release.”
“The conviction of two journalists for doing their job is another terrible stain on the Burmese government,” Nikki Haley said.
“It is clear to all that the Burmese military has committed vast atrocities. In a free country, it is the duty of a responsible press to keep people informed and hold leaders accountable.”