De Lima joins call for jailed Reuters journalists’ freedom

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has joined calls for Myanmar authorities to immediately free two journalists sentenced to seven-year imprisonment for allegedly possessing secret documents for their report on massacres against Rohingya Muslims.

De Lima, a known human rights defender here and abroad, said our modern democracy gives the people the right to access information about their government and allows the media to report on the excesses of power and the abuses of the powerful.

“I am in solidarity with civil society and political leaders everywhere who are making loud protests against the crackdown on media freedom and right to information in Myanmar, as evidenced by the sham trial and wrongful conviction of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo by a district court in Yangon,” she said in her recent Dispatch from Crame No. 375.

Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were sentenced to seven years in prison in Myanmar after allegedly violating the Official Secrets Act for reporting on a massacre of 10 Rohingya men by Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State.

The two journalists pleaded not guilty as they reportedly testified that they were simply framed up by police officers who insisted on meeting them and then handed them documents minutes before their arrest.

The issue of the violent military campaign against the Rohingya in Rahkine state which the two journalists researched about is sensitive in Myanmar because of global condemnation of the military’s human rights abuses of Rohingya minority.

De Lima has since supported global call on behalf of Rohingya people. She signed a joint statement of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights calling on the United Nations Security Council to bring the humanitarian crisis affecting Rohingya people in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

In November 2017, De Lima opposed the Philippine government’s decision not to support the United Nations General Assembly committee draft resolution against Myanmar’s military campaign on Rohingya Muslims.

As then DOJ secretary in May 2015, De Lima also proposed the Philippines, along with fellow ASEAN member-states, to send rescue ships to help the Rohingya Muslims or “boat people” still stranded in the seas and save their lives.

The Senator from Bicol said the clampdown on press freedom in Myanmar resonates in the Philippines where the foreign and national media have also been under constant threat of repression.

“There are reports of Filipino and foreign journalists being harassed and threatened for documenting rights violations, and for making known their opinion about the abuses and misconduct of government officials. Media killings are on the rise,” she said.

Media outfits like Rappler, ABS-CBN, and Philippine Daily Inquirer, have been subjects of severe attacks from Mr. Duterte.

The former justice secretary said press freedom and access to information should be a concern of everyone in any parts of the world.

“It is in the free flow of information that a citizen gets to know what his or her government is doing,” she said. “It is through the courage of media that horrors and atrocities of unspeakable proportions, like those that surround the Rohingya ethnic cleansing, and also the mass murders under the Duterte regime, are exposed and brought under global scrutiny and action.”

In a bid to provide insurance coverage and hazard pay to journalists and other media persons assigned to cover conflict or disaster areas, De Lima has filed Senate Bill No. 1860 which mandates additional insurance benefits for journalists, such as disability, health and hospitalization benefits.

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