Friday, 19 January, 2018

Reuters Journalists Charged In Myanmar After Reporting On Rohingya Crisis

Reuters journalists Wa Lone left and Kyaw Soe Oo face up to 14 years in prison for their reporting in Myanmar Detained Reuters Journalists Appear in Myanmar Court
Johnnie Parks | 12 January, 2018, 03:21

Having been remanded for a second 14-day period at a hearing last month, the case of two Reuters journalists began in earnest on Wednesday at Yangon's Northern District Court, with the prosecution confirming that charges under Burma's Official Secrets Act would be brought against them.

"If any person for any goal prejudicial to the safety or interest of the State obtains, collects, records or publishes or communicates to any other person any secret official code or password, or any sketch, plan, model, article or note or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy", they could be punished with time in prison, that particular section of the law states. "We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release", he said.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were held incommunicado by the police for two weeks before appearing in court on December 27, when they were remanded for another two weeks.

Both men face up to 14 years in prison if convicted under the Official Secrets Act, which dates back almost a century ago, when Myanmar was under British colonial rule.

It is a case that highlights growing concerns about press freedom in the country. The men say they were arrested upon leaving the restaurant after receiving documents from the officers. "And by targeting a high-profile news organization like Reuters, it shows no journalist is safe to report on sensitive stories in Myanmar".

The two had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where - according to United Nations estimates - about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from a fierce military crackdown on militants.

He said authorities claimed that the two policemen who supposedly attended the dinner were also arrested but the reporters say they are not the ones who gave them the documents, and authorities have failed to explain explained the glaring inconsistency.

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The family of Wa Lone has sent a letter to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the detention of the two journalists and are hoping for a response from the country's de facto civilian leader.

The US Embassy in Myanmar led reaction to the court decision, expressing disappointment and calling for the "immediate release" of the reporters.

Authorities have blocked most media access to the north of Rakhine State, where Rohingya militant attacks on the security forces on August 25 sparked the military crackdown.

Also on Tuesday, London-based Amnesty International urged Myanmar authorities to immediately release the pair.

She has made no public comment on the detention of the two Reuters reporters.

Under the current government, at least 32 journalists have been charged, mostly under colonial-era laws, according to the local group We Support Journalists, the Associated Press reported. A statement on the Facebook page of the military's commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said that the 10 bodies there were of Muslims who had been taken to the cemetery and killed by villagers and security forces "because they were terrorists".

Both the government and the army have denied the accusations.

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