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January 18, 2019

Myanmar Reuters journalists' appeal decision due Friday: lawyer

Myanmar Reuters journalists' appeal decision due Friday: lawyer
'Wa Lone (C, pictured after an August court appearance) and fellow reporter Kyaw Soe Oo have already spent more than a year behind bars' - By: AFP/File YE AUNG THU

Two Myanmar Reuters journalists jailed for reporting on the Rohingya crisis should find out Friday if their appeal against their seven-year sentence is successful, their lawyer said.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in December 2017 and later sentenced under the Official Secrets Act for possession of classified documents.

The pair's defence argued that they were entrapped in a police sting after investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men during the army's brutal crackdown on the persecuted community.

Outrage at the verdict echoed around the world after what was widely regarded as a sham trial, held as punishment for their work.

The pair's lawyers lodged their appeal late December and on Tuesday said the decision would be handed down Friday.

"The decision for the Reuters appeal case will be given at 1pm at the High Court on January 11," lawyer Than Zaw Aung told AFP Tuesday.

The court could choose to uphold their seven-year sentence, reduce the jail term or even set them free.

"We are hoping for the best and for their freedom," Than Zaw Aung said, adding it was unclear if the pair would be able to walk free on the same day, if the judge ruled in their favour.

Domestically the reporters have garnered little sympathy, with many buying the nationalist line that they were simply traitors for reporting on the Rohingya crisis.

A violent military campaign in 2017 forced more than 720,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh with refugees bringing with them consistent accounts of murder, rape, torture and arson.

UN investigators have called for the prosecution of top generals for genocide and accused Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government of complicity.

Myanmar vehemently rejects nearly all allegations, legitimising the crackdown as a necessary defence against Rohingya militants.

Rights groups say the British colonial-era state secrets law has been used in order to muzzle the media's reporting on the crisis.

Outside the country the two men have been hailed as heroes and feted with awards presented in their absence.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were even jointly named Time Magazine's Person of the Year 2018, alongside other persecuted and slain journalists.

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