Detained Reuters Journalists Appear in Myanmar Court


"We are disappointed by today's decision to pursue charges against Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under the Official Secrets Act".

Myanmar's Ministry of Information said the reporters "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media". Since the party took power in 2016, at least 32 journalists have been charged with various crimes, according to We Support Journalists, a local media watchdog.

"The proceedings against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are a transparent attempt to intimidate the media and to prevent coverage of the unfolding tragedy of the Rohingya people in Myanmar's Rakhine state", said Steven Butler, Asia programme coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"What with the lack of transparency, the failure to respect proper legal procedure and the fabrication of evidence, everything suggests that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are being used by the authorities as scapegoats in order to deter overly curious reporters", he said.

On Tuesday, former US President Bill Clinton joined the calls, tweeting that the arrests are unacceptable and saying the journalists should be released immediately.

The government has said two police officers were also arrested for investigation under suspicion of having violated the Official Secrets Act.

"The prosecution of these two journalist shows both the government's contempt for freedom of the press and a fundamental failure to understand what journalists' jobs are all about", he told TIME.

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

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo covered the unrest in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state, where some 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee into neighboring Bangladesh to escape a scorched earth campaign against them by military forces. Wa and Kyaw could face a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in prison, their legal representative shared.

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.

But as they walked along a road shortly after they were confronted by a group of about eight police, handcuffed and then held incommunicado for two weeks, accused of acquiring "important secret papers."

Negotiating a scrum of journalists gathered in front of the Insein courthouse in Yangon on Wednesday morning, Mr. Wa Lone struck a defiant pose, raising his cuffed hands and later flashing a thumbs-up sign. She has made no public comment on the case of the two Reuters reporters.

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.

"We view this as a whole unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom", said Reuters president and editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler. Satellite images collected by human rights groups document the destruction by fire of hundreds of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine. The government has denied that their arrests represent an attack on press freedom.