Written by Carma Hassan, CNN
[Editor’s note: This story was updated May 15, 2019 at 8:45 a.m. ET with a decision.]
If free will is what it takes to ensure the journalist’s proper detention, then the Myanmar court that detained Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo early this year has not made up its mind — at least according to a Friday ruling that set a May 2 deadline for the court to again review the case.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested on December 12, 2017, during a crackdown on protesters by the authorities of the former military-run regime.
The two journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison on September 2 after being found guilty of breaching the state secrets act. Their trial centered on how they were allowed access to documents allegedly related to weapons procurement, former ruling party officials and Western diplomats before their arrest.
U Myo Zin, a leading member of the Reuters news agency’s legal team, said in a statement that Friday’s decision was a partial victory but still a “significant setback for press freedom in Myanmar.”
“The ruling effectively commits the court to deciding within 45 days whether Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be released on bail — but holds off a final decision until it has reviewed a case of similar length,” U Myo Zin said.
Following Friday’s hearing, National Supreme Court Judge Ye Lwin said: “I can see the obvious sense of the court regarding time. There is already more than 45 days since the court first heard the case and I want to deal with the case so that it is still within that time.”
Wa Lone, a Myanmar national, and Kyaw Soe Oo, who is from Rakhine State and a Burmese citizen, have been held in Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, since December 17.
Reuters has said it will challenge the conviction on behalf of the journalists, who were arrested while investigating the brutal treatment of Rohingya Muslims in northwestern Myanmar, which the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing.
Meanwhile, the military has been accused of having a role in the violence that has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, reports U.N. officials.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said Friday she was “saddened” by the decision.
“The junta handed power over to a democratically elected government in April, but at least one person is still in prison,” Lee said.
“The military continues to abduct and torture journalists and the law and court system remains as corrupt as ever,” she added.