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Jailing of journalists reporting on violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma condemned by Theresa May

Wa Lone, centre, talks to journalists as he is escorted by police from court in Yangon, Burma. Picture: Thein Zaw/AP

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May is extremely disappointed with the sentencing of two journalists in Burma to seven years in prison and has called for their immediate release.

A Burma court sentenced Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo over illegal possession of official documents while reporting on violence against Rohingya Muslims.

Both pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, contending they were framed by police.

A spokesman for Mrs May said of the situation in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar: "We are extremely disappointed with this verdict and sentencing, and we call for the journalists to be released immediately.

"In any democracy, journalists must be free to carry out their jobs without fear or intimidation.

"This verdict has undermined freedom of the media in Myanmar."

The Reuters journalists said while giving evidence that they did not solicit or knowingly possess any secret documents.

A police officer who said his commander had ordered documents be planted on the journalists was subsequently jailed for a year.

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.

Both journalists said they suffered from harsh treatment during their initial interrogations.

Their several appeals for release on bail were rejected.

Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to the couple's first child in Yangon on August 10, but he 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 Burma's Rakhine state.

Some 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the violence targeting them after attacks by Rohingya militants killed a dozen members of the security forces.

Investigators working for the UN's top human rights body said last week that genocide charges should be brought against senior Burma military officers over the crackdown.

The accusation of genocide was rejected by Burma's government, but it is the most serious official recommendation for prosecution so far.

Also last week, Facebook banned Burma's powerful military chief and 19 other individuals and organisations from its site to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation in connection with the Rohingya crisis.

Dozens of journalists and pro-democracy activists marched on Saturday in Yangon, Burma's biggest city, in support of the reporters.

But in the country at large, with an overwhelming Buddhist majority, there is widespread prejudice against the Rohingya, and in the government and military, there is near-xenophobic sensitivity to foreign criticism.

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