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An essential function of journalism is to expose government secrets.

Without reporters publishing information that political leaders would prefer to keep hidden, democratic government would scarcely be possible.

That is why the conviction of two reporters in Myanmar is so disturbing. Criminalizing journalism is not only a profound injustice for the journalists involved, it is a blow against democracy itself.

The long-running persecution of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar came to a head on Monday when they were found guilty of breaking the country’s official secrets law for reporting on the slaughter of Rohingya civilians by state security forces last year.

A judge sentenced Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, to seven years in jail – absurd, draconian sentences that speak ill of Myanmar’s judicial system.

Even on its own dubious terms, the case against these young men was laughably weak: A prosecution witness testified in April that police officers planted official documents on the journalists in an effort to frame them.

Of course, the crookedness of the process that led to these convictions almost goes without saying. It has been clear from the beginning that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were being railroaded for helping to expose Myanmar’s genocidal campaign against its Rohingya minority.

The reporters were arrested for looking into the killing and mass burial of 10 men by Buddhist villagers and government soldiers in the country’s Rakhine state. The United Nations’ recent report on the situation in Myanmar shows how typical that massacre was: The organization puts the number of Rohingya killed in the past year at 10,000.

The courageous Wa Lone told reporters outside the courtroom on Monday, “I have no fear. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.”

Canada and other countries that believe in those same values must speak up and demand the journalists’ release, not just for their sake but also for the sake of Myanmar’s fragile democracy.