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2 Reuters Journalists Sentenced To 7 Years In Prison In Myanmar

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A judge in Myanmar sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison today. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty of violating the country's Official Secrets Act during their reporting of a mass killing of Rohingya Muslims. The journalists say they were set up and pleaded not guilty. To talk more about this, we're joined by Reuters editor in chief Stephen Adler. Welcome to the program.

STEPHEN ADLER: Thank you so much for having me.

CORNISH: Your colleagues were actually in the courtroom today. Do you have any sense of how these journalists are doing?

ADLER: They reacted under the circumstances very positively. They know they did nothing wrong, and they are very committed journalists. But what they said was they're not afraid, that they believe in what they're doing. And they also, I think, recognize that we at Reuters and much of the world is supporting them. So I thought they were in quite good shape considering the tremendous ordeal they've been going through.

CORNISH: Right. They've been held for nine months - right? - before this sentencing.

ADLER: Yeah, they were arrested on December 12 and have never been out.

CORNISH: The story they were working on when they were arrested was about a massacre of 10 Muslims, men and boys, by security forces. Talk about what was significant about this reporting.

ADLER: Obviously, the massacre of 10 people you have to take seriously under any circumstances. But there had been many killings. What had made this so special was that, first of all, they had photographic evidence that they had gotten from villagers of these 10 Rohingya Muslims kneeling in a field. And then they had another picture of those same people - easily identified as the same people - dead in a ditch, some of them having been hacked to death. And there were also - in the back of the photographs were some people who had guns who quite clearly were the people who had perpetrated this.

So the fact that they had photographic evidence, they were working on figuring out the identities of the people who actually did it and also that they'd gotten a lot of their information not from refugees - not from people who are viewed as victims - but from Buddhist villagers and from members of the police force lent it so much more credibility. It was impossible to say that this was something that had been manufactured. This was clearly sourced in a way that it was going to be impossible to refute. And I think that was viewed as particularly dangerous and damaging.

CORNISH: Is that what you believe led to the arrest of your colleagues?

ADLER: Yes, that's the most likely inference. And one of the reasons we believe that is because when they were arrested and were interrogated under pretty harsh circumstances, before they were more publicly brought to the jail, they were asked about this story. So that's clearly what the government wanted to know about.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, they were arrested in December. And then you published their investigation later in February.

ADLER: Yes.

CORNISH: Why did you do that? Did you have any moment when you thought you might not publish?

ADLER: We took a little time to assess their situation, and we realized also the story hadn't been entirely completed. There was work yet to be done that they would have done. But as we thought about it - and as, by the way, we talked to them, they were very supportive of our going ahead with it. And we also thought we had a responsibility to publish it. Our view is that that's our job. And if you don't publish those stories, then you're giving up your responsibility, I believe, to tell the world's most important stories.

CORNISH: In the meantime, what happens to your journalists? I mean, they've been sentenced. What action is Reuters going to take going forward?

ADLER: We're not giving up. And in fact, we're if anything redoubling our efforts. Everything we're focusing on is what can, and as a practical matter, get them out. So we're going to look at solutions that involve Myanmar directly. We're going to look at solutions that are international solutions. We have a lot of ideas about things we're going to do. We're not quite ready to announce exactly what those are. But we're planning, and we're working on it. And we're gathering support, and we're building alliances. And we're just going to stay on this. We're just not going to stop working on it until they're out.

CORNISH: That's Reuters editor in chief Stephen Adler. He spoke to us about the reporting of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They were sentenced to seven years in prison in Myanmar earlier today. Stephen Adler, thank you.

ADLER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.