Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Reuters journalists charged with violating Myanmar law

Reuters journalists charged with violating Myanmar law

Section 3 covers entering prohibited places, taking images or handling secret official documents that "might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy".

When the pair was escorted back to the prison van after the court hearing under a heavy police escort, Ko Kyaw Soe Oo's cousin said in tears that she never expected to see her baby brother in handcuffs. The reporters had met two police officers for dinner on the outskirts of Yangon, the country's largest city, where they were handed documents believed to pertain to military operations against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.

Under the country's Official Secrets Act, the men may face up to 14 years in prison.

"We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom", said Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler.

Wa Lone said, "They arrested us to prevent us from finding the truth". Journalists and media outlets, in particular those who report on "sensitive topics", are living with the constant fear of harassment, intimidation or arrest.

The pair had been reporting on the military campaign in Rakhine state that has forced some 655,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee over the border to Bangladesh since August, violence the United Nations has condemned as ethnic cleansing.

The reporters later told relatives that they were detained nearly immediately after receiving the documents, Reuters reported. The reporters had been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location by police for several weeks following their arrest, raising concerns that they had become victims of enforced disappearance. "They have done absolutely nothing but carrying out their legitimate work as journalists".

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"He wanted to hold his baby but he couldn't because of the handcuffs", said Chit Su, the wife of Kyaw Soe Oo.

"We call on the government of Myanmar to drop the legal charges against and immediately release Wa Lone and Moe Aung, and to allow journalists to do their jobs without fear of similar repercussions".

Under the current government, at least 32 journalists have been charged, according to the local group We Support Journalists, the Associated Press reported.

Also on Monday, a dozen reporters based in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw submitted a request to the Myanmar's Home Affairs Ministry for more information about the case, arguing that it could have implications for the ability of journalists to do their jobs, Reuters reported.

"It's up to the court to decide whether the journalists are guilty or not because as a government, we don't interfere in the country's judicial system", said government spokesman Zaw Htay.

The French foreign ministry called in a statement for the journalists' immediate release and for the free access of media to Rakhine State.

Phil Robertson of the group Human Rights Watch said that "if Aung San Suu Kyi and her government really cared about democratic reforms and governance, they could use their parliamentary majority to quickly reform this antiquated colonial law and bring it into compliance with worldwide human rights standards". The government has denied that their arrests represent an attack on press freedom.

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