Seven members of Myanmar’s military have been sentenced to 10-year prison terms with hard labor for killing 10 Rohingya men last year, the state-run newspaper Global Light of Myanmar reported on Wednesday.
The sentences follow an internal investigation carried out by the country’s military, or Tatmadaw, which centered on Inn Din, a village in western Rakhine State, where the bodies of the 10 men were found buried in a mass grave in September 2017.
In a separate development, two Reuters journalists detained while investigating the killings in Inn Din had bail applications denied Wednesday when a court in Yangon rejected a request to have a case against them dismissed.
The journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, face a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison under the country’s Official Secrets Act.
A detailed report on a mass grave published in February by Reuters with the two journalists’ bylines was the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated in violence against the Rohingya by testimony from security personnel themselves, Reuters said.
The report quoted a retired Myanmar Army soldier who claimed he helped dig a mass grave for 10 Rohingya Muslims who were killed by Buddhist villagers and soldiers in Inn Dinn.
In a statement, Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said his organization was “deeply disappointed with the court’s decision.”
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were reporting on issues in Myanmar in an independent and impartial way. They have not violated any laws in the course of their newsgathering and were simply doing their jobs. We will continue to do all we can to secure their release,” Adler said.
The ruling was made on Wa Lone’s birthday. Family and friends of the journalists gathered outside the courthouse for the ruling with a birthday cake.
Pan Ei Mon, Wa Lone’s wife, insisted her husband was innocent and tearfully begged authorities to release the reporters when speaking to media outside the court.
‘Involved in killing terrorists’
Myanmar’s military has vehemently denied any wrongdoing against civilians in the Rakhine State, claiming it has been conducting a battle against terrorists that attacked border outposts on August 25.
All of the men involved in the killings in Inn Din were dismissed from the military and sentenced to 10 years hard labor for the killings, according to the Tatmadaw True News Information Team, which is quoted in the Global Light Of Myanmar.
The report said four officers and three men of other ranks “were involved in killing 10 terrorists.”
Police officers and civilians also found guilty of taking part in the killings have yet to be sentenced, the report said, without giving further details.
More than 670,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017, bringing with them stories of murder, rape and destruction at the hands of the country’s military.
The UN and US has said the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing and the UN Special Envoy for human rights in Myanmar said it potentially bears the “hallmarks of genocide.”
On Monday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said the court was seeking a ruling on whether the court has jurisdiction over the “alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.”
Bangladesh is a member of the court, which is intended as the world’s “court of last resort.” Myanmar is not.
CNN’s Joshua Berlinger and Kocha Olarn and Journalist Nyan Chan in Yangon contributed to this report