Myanmar seeks charges against two Reuters reporters
Wednesday 10 January 2018
Prosecutors sought charges on Wednesday against two Reuters reporters under Myanmar's colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, their lawyer said.
Wa Lone, 31, (photo) and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were detained on 12 December after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner. Family members have said the two told them they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some documents by the officers they had gone to meet.
The two had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where according to UN estimates about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from a fierce military crackdown on militants.
“They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth,” Wa Lone told reporters as he and Kyaw Soe Oo were led out of the court and back to prison after the 30-minute hearing.
The two journalists arrived and left court in handcuffs.
The charges against them are under a section of the 1923 Official Secrets Act which covers entering prohibited places, taking images or handling secret official documents that “might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy”.
The Ministry of Information had previously cited police as saying they were “arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces”. The ministry has said they “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”.
The prosecutor objected to an application for bail, the reporters’ lawyer said. The court took it under consideration and will decide at the next hearing on 23 January.
In court, Kyaw Soe Oo embraced his wife and held his daughter for a couple of minutes. His daughter began to weep as he was escorted away and he had to hand her back to other family members.
Wa Lone’s wife gave him a few small pieces of cake that she had brought.
”I am trying to be strong in everything. I never made any mistake; I never did anything wrong,” he said before leaving the court.
Reuters president and editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said he was extremely disappointed that the authorities were seeking to prosecute the pair.
“We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom. Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar. We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s prompt release,” he said.
Officials from some of the world’s major nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as top United Nations officials, have called for the release of the reporters.
Former US president Bill Clinton has urged that they be freed immediately, saying on Twitter that a free press was critical for a free society and the detention of journalists anywhere was unacceptable.
Observers from the United Nations and several embassies, including the Netherlands, Australia and Britain were at the court.
“We hope that these journalists will get a fair trial and a speedy trial that represents international practices,” the first secretary of the EU mission, Andreas Magnusson, told reporters.
About 30 journalists were outside the court, most dressed in black as a sign of protest against the arrest of the pair. Several had the message “Journalism is not a crime” or “Release the arrested journalists now” on their T-shirts.
Police were on duty outside the court, and some areas were cordoned off with barbed wire. ■