April 22, 2018

Two Reuters reporters due in court in Myanmar

12 January 2018, 07:40 | Winifred Adams

Reuters journalists arrested in Myanmar due to make second appearance before court

EXPLAINER – Two Reuters journalists due to make second Myanmar court appearance

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said he was "extremely disappointed" by the charges and again called for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to be released immediately.

Myanmar's Ministry of Information said the reporters "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

"It seems to be an effort to disappear the source of the leaks - or at least the people who have taken care of these documents provided by villagers in Rakhine state that would indicate military assaults on Rohingya", Francis Wade, a London-based freelance journalist and author of Myanmar's Enemy Within, told VOA.

Kyaw Soe Oo shouted to the court. But the families of the reporters claim they were arrested before even reading the records they were handed.

They were detained under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act after they left the restaurant for alleged possession of classified documents obtained "by deception".

The act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar, then known as Burma, was a province of British India.

Local journalists who gathered outside the court showed solidarity by wearing black to protest the arrest of the two men.

Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo arrives at the court in Yangon, Myanmar January 10, 2018. The U.N. says almost 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the western state to Bangladesh since the bloody violence erupted last August.

Numerous journalists have been imprisoned after reporting on abuses taking place in Myanmar's ethnic frontier lands, where the military has been fighting various ethnic guerrilla groups for decades.

"For democracy to succeed and flourish, journalists must be able to do their jobs", the embassy said in a statement, according to Reuters.

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"This charge is nothing to do with us", said Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, urging his fellow journalists to take care of their own security while uncovering the truth.

His colleague Wa Lone said his wife was pregnant, adding: "I'm trying to be strong".

A slew of legal cases against journalists have compounded disappointment among those hoping the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi would usher in a new era of freedom.

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

Tweeting in support of the journalists, former United States president Bill Clinton said: "A free press is critical to a free society-the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable".

Much of the Buddhist-majority population supports the army in what it calls a legitimate campaign against Rohingya militants after attacks against border guard police killed about a dozen.

The charges brought against them could carry a penalty of up to 14 years behind bars.

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

James Gomez, Amnesty's Southeast Asia director, called for the pair to be "immediately and unconditionally released".

"The Myanmar government must do a great deal more than it does now to allow media organisations the freedom to form, collect and distribute news and information", the group said in statement on Tuesday. The government has denied that their arrests represent an attack on press freedom.

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