YANGON -- The guilty verdicts and prison sentences delivered here Monday against two Reuters reporters investigating the Rohingya crisis sparked outrage in the international community, which slammed a failure of civil freedoms in Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar.
A district court in Yangon convicted Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of violating Myanmar's colonial-era Official Secrets Act, sentencing them to seven years in prison.
"I believe in justice, democracy and freedom," Wa Lone told reporters after hearing the sentence, before he was taken away in a police vehicle.
The two journalists were investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim residents of Inn Din, a village in the western state of Rakhine, in a security sweep by militia and security forces. Over 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since a deadly military crackdown targeting the minority group.
The reporters' coverage of the Inn Din massacre "was clearly in the public interest as it may otherwise never have come to light," Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said Monday in a statement.
The convictions "send a message to all journalists in Myanmar that they cannot operate fearlessly, but must rather make a choice to either self-censor or risk prosecution," she said.
The European Union issued criticism as well, saying, "The prison sentences of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be reviewed and the two journalists be released immediately and unconditionally."
The journalists were arrested in December outside of a Yangon restaurant, minutes after receiving confidential documents on the sweep from police at the eatery. The defense attorney called their arrest a trap set by police to block the investigation.
Suu Kyi, the state counselor and de facto head of the Myanmar government, had largely stayed silent on the matter, saying only that it should be handled according to the judicial process.
U.N.-appointed investigators said in late August that six Myanmar military officials should be investigated and prosecuted on charges of genocide against the Rohingya.
The U.S. Treasury Department added four Myanmar military commanders and two military units last month to its sanctions list. The EU and Canada imposed sanctions on seven senior military and police officials of Myanmar in June.
But the Western countries fear that wider-ranging sanctions may lead to the collapse of Suu Kyi's government, which lacks control over the military. That could benefit the global ambitions of China, which has provided generous economic support to Myanmar.
The Rohingya crisis, which drew international focus beginning last September, has slammed the brakes on foreign investment in Myanmar. Newly approved projects tumbled 72% on the year to $829 million in the April-July period, according to the country's Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.