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A few days ago a Myanmar court has sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison. At the time of their arrest, the two were working on an investigation into the killing of ten Rohingya men in a village in Rakhine State.
We have been following this case very closely from the very beginning, almost a year ago, following their arrest on 18 December last year, we have requested the immediate release of the journalists.
Our Delegation to Myanmar observed all relevant Court hearings, and together with Member States, we continuously raised the issue with the Myanmar government.
When the Court decided to press charges against the two journalists on 7 July we again reacted publically.
Many observers saw this trial as a test of freedom of the media, democracy and the rule of law in the country. It is pretty clear that the test was failed. And we made this clear in our statement released right after the sentence. The sentence will also intimidate other journalists who could fear undue arrest or prosecution for doing their job.
Through the years, we have always accompanied Myanmar on its path towards democracy. And I still have hope that Myanmar can go back to that path and become an inclusive and free country for all its citizens.
So, we ask once again that the prison sentences be reviewed and the two journalists be released immediately and unconditionally.
The report they were working on, published almost a year ago, shed light into what was happening in Rakhine State. It contains exactly the same kind of stories that I myself heard from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh; the same stories that have also led to the preliminary report from the United Nations’ (UN) Fact-Finding Mission.
The UN report confirms the need for pressure and engagement to make the situation change as soon as possible. This is exactly what we have been doing so far, as European Union.
As you know, we were one of the strongest voices asking for a Fact Finding Mission in 2017. And we are now sponsoring a Resolution at the ongoing session of the Human Rights Council to support the recommendations and conclusions of the Fact-Finding Mission. So, those of you [Members of the European Parliament] who have asked us to do it, we are currently doing that.
This Resolution will aim, in particular, at the establishment of an international accountability mechanism.
We will also discuss the situation when we meet at the upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting, that we will host next month in Brussels. And, of course, I will use the UN General Assembly ministerial week, in ten days from now, to discuss how to improve the situation with all the relevant interlocutors, not only in the region but also in the UN system.
There are some urgent measures to be taken: first and foremost, to guarantee full and immediate humanitarian access inside Rakhine State. We are already among the largest humanitarian donors for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, but it is vital that aid reaches those in need inside Myanmar.
To address these kind of issues – but also to improve the overall human rights situation, and to address the lack of accountability for those who have committed crimes – we are putting pressure on relevant individuals and institutions in Myanmar.
We have put in place restrictive measures against seven senior army and police officers associated with serious human rights violations in Rakhine State. In light of the UN report, we are also considering to strengthen these restrictive measures.
We have also made clear to the Myanmar authorities that our trade preferences with Myanmar are linked to clear conditions on human rights and democracy, and that to preserve our current trade arrangements, we need to see decisive action to improve the situation.
Finally, we are working closely with the civilian government of Myanmar, to address the root causes of conflict in accordance with the Annan Report.
The people of Myanmar have asked to turn the page, to go towards a democratic system and country, and they deserve better than this. They deserve a country where journalists are free to do their job, and to keep the state institutions accountable for their actions. They deserve a country where all citizens – all of them - have the same rights, whatever their faith or their background.
So, we will continue to put pressure and to engage so that the country can advance again on its path towards democracy.
I thank you very much, especially I would like to thank all of you that are engaging strongly and closely with the country. Because parliamentary diplomacy - as always, but especially in this case - is key.