January 24, 2019

Myanmar Must Release Detained Reuters Journalists Wa Lone and Moe Aung Immediately

12 January 2018, 03:19 | Randall Craig

Detained Reuters Journalists Appear in Myanmar Court

Reuters' journalist Wa Lone shouts as he leaves after his trial at Mingaladon township court in Yangon Myanmar 27 December 2017

Local and foreign media have called the Reuters reporters' arrest a threat to press freedom, and Western countries including the US, UK and Canada have urged the Myanmar government to release them.

"If any person for any objective 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. Than Zaw Aung said in order for the application to be approved, the judge would need to make an exception to the provision under which Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been charged, which is otherwise not a bailable offence.

"They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth", Reuters quoted Wa Lone as saying as he and Kyaw Soe Oo were led out of court on Wednesday. It carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

It is a case that highlights growing concerns about press freedom in the country. Journalists and media outlets, in particular those who report on "sensitive topics", are living with the constant fear of harassment, intimidation or arrest. The police officers had worked in Rakhine state, where security forces are blamed for rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims that sparked the exodus of some 650,000 people to Bangladesh.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on December 12, after they were invited to meet police for dinner in Yangon, on suspicion of violating the Official Secrets Act. "Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar".

A government spokesman was not available for comment on Clinton's Twitter post. The journalists are being held in the notoriously harsh Inseināœ“ prison in Yangon.

The European Union's called on authorities in Myanmar to release two Reuters journalists after prosecutors charged them for violating the official secrets act.

Observers from the United Nations and several embassies, including those of the Netherlands, Australia and Britain, were also present at the court as police cordoned off the area.

"We are disappointed by today's decision to pursue charges against Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under the Official Secrets Act".

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. "We call for their immediate release", it said in a statement. The reporters said they had not been mistreated in custody.

"It is indeed very disappointing that an old draconian law from the colonial era is being used by a democratically elected government to suppress press freedom", read a statement from the mission dated Wednesday.

Suu Kyi won a 2015 election and formed Myanmar's first civilian government in more than half a century in early 2016, although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president.

Both the government and the army have denied the accusations.

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