A judge in Myanmar ruled against a request to dismiss the case against two Reuters reporters. They were detained in December for allegedly violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. This issue provoked international condemnation as UN experts and Britain’s foreign minister have asked the country to release the reporters.
Myanmar police arrested the journalists while they were investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya citizens in the village of Inn Dinn. This investigation was the first time Buddhist villagers confessed that the killings took place, according to a Feb. 8 Reuters article. Prior to this, only the victims spoke out.
Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been detained since Dec. 12. The massacre occurred as part of violent attacks on Rohingya Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country, according to an April 11 New York Times article. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Myanmar said the crisis “bears the hallmarks of genocide,” according to a March 12 Al Jazeera article. While researching the murder of the 10 Rohingya men, the two reporters obtained photos of the victims kneeling before their execution and also found the mass grave where the victims were buried, according to an April 11 New York Times article.
“I think that [the ethnic cleansing] is one of the most important crises that is happening in the world today,” Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel said. “It is indicative of … the ways in which nationalism equated itself with religious identity.”
The Myanmar government has faced global accusations of ethnic cleansing as more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown on insurgents last August, according to an April 11 Guardian article. The government denies the allegations and says it was defending itself against attacks from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
“The Sangha [the Buddhist community] has indeed participated in that, and it is a shame,” Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Joy Brennan wrote in an email to the Collegian. “There is no foundation in any Buddhist text or idea for this sort of prejudice and promotion of violence.” She also noted that there are several American Buddhist groups who have shown signs of support for the Rohingya and against Buddhist involvement in their oppression.
The Rohingya have been denied citizenship since 1982, according to a Feb. 5 Al Jazeera article. Most Rohingya in Myanmar live in the western coastal state of Rakhine, one of the poorest states in the country, and are not allowed to leave without government permission.
The military admitted to involvement in the killing of the 10 Rohingya men, and Reuters later published the story while its reporters were in prison, according to an April 11 Guardian article.
The army has claimed the Rohingya men were terrorists, but has not provided any evidence to back up the claim.
On April 10, seven soldiers were sentenced to jail with hard labor for their part in the killings, according to an April 11 Guardian article. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are facing a trial that could result in a 14-year prison sentence.
“My question is, why are the journalists still in detention in prison if their report is true?” Than Zaw Aung, one of the reporters’ lawyers, told the Guardian.
The day of the court was also Wa Lone’s 32nd birthday and to celebrate, his friends brought cake. Despite the ruling, Wa Lone expressed optimism. “I believe in democracy. I also believe that one day we will be released because of freedom of expression,” he said to Al Jazeera.
Schubel noted that the conflict needs to gain more media attention. “These things tend to end badly,” he said. “In order to be hopeful, we need to really start demanding that the world turns its attention to that, and that means that this needs to move from the back pages to the front pages, and people need to be speaking out, because I think this is now a global crisis.”