Detained Myanmar reporters appear in court

Jan 12, 2018, 03:20
Detained Myanmar reporters appear in court

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has urged that they be freed immediately, saying on Twitter on Monday that a free press was critical for a free society and the detention of journalists anywhere was unacceptable.

Police arrested Thet Oo Maung, also known as Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, on December 12 for violating the law by allegedly illegally possessing classified documents about security forces in northern Rakhine state, where a military crackdown has driven about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017. In one of its firmest statements yet, the 28-nation bloc, which is a significant donor to Myanmar, said that the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo was an important test for the country's commitment to developing democracy after years of military rule.

If they are found guilty, they could face a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

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.

Prosecutors in Myanmar formally charged two journalists from the Reuters news agency on Wednesday with violating the Official Secrets Act, signaling the case will go forward despite global condemnation.

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.

Wa Lone joined Reuters in 2016 and made his mark with reports on sensitive subjects.

Other foreign governments including the United States and the European Union have also criticised the decision to arrest and prosecute the two men, warning similarly of the threat that legal action posed to press freedom.

"We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release". They did not read the documents before they were arrested, the relatives said.

Reporters covering Wednesday's proceedings dressed in black in protest against the arrest of the Reuters' journalists.

Despite facing heavy criticism for the move, the government said it was simply implementing the rule of law.

The president of Reuters released a statement describing the arrest as a wholly unwarranted and blatant attack on press freedom.

Myanmar's government alleged the reporters were arrested because they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media", according to CNN.

Previously, U.N. and USA officials, a group of 50 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and Myanmar's Committee for the Protection of Journalists called on the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally release the two journalists.

Government officials from some of the world's major nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as top U.N. officials, have called for the release of the journalists.

The military has severely restricted access to Rakhine to reporters, aid groups and observers.

Friends say Kyaw Soe Oo avoided becoming caught up in the tension between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims but the conflict drew him into journalism.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called on Myanmar to release the two reporters. Both reporters have said they were not mistreated in custody, the report said.