A Myanmar court sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison Monday for illegal possession of official documents, a ruling that comes as international criticism mounts over the military's alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims. Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They contended they were framed by police. Both journalists, who have been detained since December, testified they suffered from harsh treatment during their initial interrogations. Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to the couple's first child on Aug. 10, but Wa Lone has not yet seen his daughter.
The two journalists had been reporting last year on the brutal crackdown by security forces on the Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state—one that has now been labeled genocide by the UN. The case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how press freedom is suffering under the government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the AP reports. Her taking power in 2016 had raised hopes for an accelerated transition to full democracy from military rule, but she has since disappointed many former admirers. "What happened today threatens to undermine the rule of law and freedom of press that democracy requires," says Kevin Krolicki, Reuters' regional editor for Asia. He calls the verdict "heartbreaking."