Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Two Reuters reporters due in court in Myanmar

Two Reuters reporters due in court in Myanmar

Both men face up to 14 years in prison if convicted under the Official Secrets Act, which dates back almost a century ago, when Myanmar was under British colonial rule.

"Journalists able to work in a free and enabling environment without fear of intimidation or undue arrest or prosecution", he said in a letter dated January 8, as reported by Reuters.

Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested a month ago after receiving documents from two policemen during a dinner in Yangon.

The clashes also forced more than 650,000 people, mostly Muslim inhabitants in northern Rakhine, to flee to the neighbouring Bangladesh to escape violence. Wa Lone wrote a children's book and co-founded a charity that promotes tolerance between different ethnic groups and helps orphans.

The two journalists arrived and left court in handcuffs.

Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler has called for the immediate release of the two.

"Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo must be immediately and unconditionally released", James Gomez, Amnesty International's Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific said in a statement. A civilian court sentenced them to 10 years in prison with hard labour - later reduced to seven years.

Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Thai foreign minister and the head of a new worldwide advisory panel on the Rohingya crisis, also expressed concern at the arrest of the reporters and said he hoped the case did not lead to broader restrictions on the global media. "We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe OO's prompt release".

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.

"The United States is deeply disappointed by today's court decision", the State Department said Wednesday as it reiterated that call.

Government 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.

Two Reuters journalists have been charged under Myanmar's Official Secrets Act despite widespread global outrage.

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

The media and NGOs have been barred from entering northern Rakhine where the Myanmar military stands accused of committing atrocities against the Rohingya during the crackdown which the United Nations and USA say amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Both reporters were arrested December 12.

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 global human rights standards". In 2014, he joined the English-language Myanmar Times, covering the 2015 election that swept Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to power. She has made no public comment on the case of the two Reuters reporters.

Both the government and the army have denied the accusations.

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