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Free Reuters reporters now - activists to Myanmar president

Civil groups signed an open letter to Myanmar's president on Thursday urging him to immediately release two Reuters reporters accused of possessing secret government papers and police officers involved in what they called an "obviously an unreasonable case".

The letter, signed by 163 civil society groups, also asked newly-elected Myanmar president Win Myint to “seek justice and truth” and to set up an investigation committee to “reveal justice as soon as possible in order to maintain people’s trust in the judiciary sector”.

“We believe that this is not a fair case... What we all want is truth and justice,” said Thatoe Aung, a rights activist who helped organise the petition to the president.

A court in the city of Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings since January to decide whether Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo (photo), 28, will be charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Two police officers who were identified as “allegedly involved in the case” were also arrested.

It has become a landmark press freedom case after a police officer told the court last week that a senior officer had ordered police to “trap” one of the two journalists arrested in December, telling police to meet reporter Wa Lone and give him “secret documents”.

At the time of the reporters’ arrest they had been working on an investigation into a killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, during an army crackdown that United Nations agencies say has sent nearly 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.

Police captain Moe Yan Naing, who described to the court how police planted secret documents on Reuters reporters, faces charges of violating police regulations and up to two years in prison and dismissal. ■