Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar have lost their appeal against a seven-year sentence imposed over claims they broke the country’s official secrets act.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted in September amid international outcry.

The pair had reported on Myanmar’s crackdown on its Rohingya Muslim minority and were convicted for having government documents in their possession.

Judge Aung Naing said their lawyers failed to submit enough evidence to prove their innocence. 

“It was a suitable punishment,” the high court judge said, referring to the seven-year prison term meted out by the lower court.

The defence has the option of making a further appeal to the country’s supreme court, based in the capital Naypyitaw.

“Today’s ruling is yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They remain behind bars for one reason: those in power sought to silence the truth,” said Reuters’ editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler in a statement.

“Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar’s commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt.”

In their appeal arguments made last month, defence lawyers had cited evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime. They told the appeal court the lower court that tried the case had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the defendants.

The defence also said prosecutors had failed to prove the reporters gathered and collected secret information, sent information to an enemy of Myanmar or that they had an intention to harm national security.

The judge said on Friday “it was not acceptable” to say that the defendants had acted according to journalistic ethics. “It cannot be said that it was a set up,” he said.

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The conviction of the two journalists has drawn condemnation from rights groups, Western governments and global press associations and has raised questions about press freedom in Myanmar as it transitions from a decades of military rule. 

Before their arrest, the reporters had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during an army crackdown which began in August 2017.

The military operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to United Nations’ estimates.

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European Union ambassador to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt, who attended the hearing, described the ruling as “a great disappointment and a missed opportunity to correct a wrong that has been committed against the two journalists.” 

“It casts serious doubts on the independence of the judiciary of Myanmar and for people’s right to information and learning the truth,” he said. 

He called for Myanmar’s president to have the journalists released immediately and unconditionally.

Additional reporting by agencies

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