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Reuters reporters refused bail in Myanmar

Bail for two Reuters journalists accused of violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act was rejected by a court on Thursday.

A lawyer for the two journalists told the court that documents police said were found in their possession when they were arrested on 12 December contained information that was publicly available in newspaper reports.

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in Rakhine state, where an army crackdown on insurgents that started last August has triggered the flight of nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to the United Nations.

The reporters were detained after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner in Yangon. They have told relatives they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some documents at a restaurant by two officers they had not met before.

Reuters president and editor-in-chief Stephen Adler expressed disappointment that the reporters were denied bail and called for their prompt release.

“It has now been more than 50 days since they were arrested, and they should have the opportunity to be with their families as the hearings continue,” he said in a statement.

“We believe the court proceedings will demonstrate their innocence and Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will be able to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar.”

Police Major Min Thant, one of the arresting officers, submitted what he said were secret documents seized from the two reporters.

In response, Than Zaw Aung, their defence lawyer, submitted copies of several newspaper articles that he said showed the information in the documents was already public.

“They are filing the lawsuit saying these are secret things but I want to show this is not secret and the public already knew those things,” he told the court.

The court rejected the defendants’ application for bail. Reading from the 1923 Official Secrets Act, Judge Ye Lwin said the alleged offence was “non-bailable”, without elaborating further.

The two reporters were smiling and appeared in good spirits as they were brought handcuffed to the court from prison. Wa Lone gave the thumbs up sign (photo) and Kyaw Soe Oo hugged his young daughter.

During a break in court proceedings, their families were allowed to spend some time with them.

The courtroom was packed with reporters and diplomats from the US, British, Canadian, Norwegian, Swedish, French and Danish embassies as well as United Nations and European Union officials.

The next hearing will be on 6 February. ■