March 19, 2018

Myanmar: Reuters journalists must be released

12 January 2018, 03:21 | Lena Norman

Reuters Journalists Charged In Myanmar After Reporting On Rohingya Crisis

Detained Reuters Journalists Appear in Myanmar Court

"Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been reporting on events of global importance in Myanmar, and we learned today that they have been arrested in connection with their work", said Stephen J. Adler, president and editor-in-chief of Reuters.

Myanmar sought charges Wednesday against two Reuters journalists who stand accused of breaching the state secrets act, in a case that has renewed fears about press freedom in the country. The case against the men, who were covering the country's Rohingya refugee crisis, carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

"If any person for any goal prejudicial to the safety or interest of the State obtains, collects, records or publishes or communicates to any other person any secret official code or password, or any sketch, plan, model, article or note or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy", they could be punished with time in prison, that particular section of the law states. The act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar, then known as Burma, was a province of British India.

Previously, U.N. and US officials, a group of 50 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and Myanmar's Committee for the Protection of Journalists called on the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally release the two journalists.

Reuters' driver Myothant Tun dropped them off at Battalion 8's compound at around 8 pm and the two reporters and two police officers headed to a nearby restaurant.

Their lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said on Wednesday that the prosecutor had objected to an application for bail, and that the court would decide the matter at the next hearing on January 23.

Dozens of journalists wearing black waited outside the court Wednesday to protest the arrest of their colleagues, who were led into the court smiling and giving the thumbs up sign despite heavy handcuffs on their wrists.

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 the release of the journalists.

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"We were arrested on a trumped up charge so as to prevent [journalists] from reporting true news", said Ko Wa Lone, one of two detained Reuters reporters, during his appearance at the Yangon North District Court on Wednesday.

Reporters Without Borders said the two reporters were being used as "scapegoats" to intimidate journalists, as rights groups condemned their continued detention.

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

The French foreign ministry called in a statement for the journalists' immediate release and for the free access of media to Rakhine State. "The two journalists had the misfortune to take an interest in what is happening in Rakhine State, where 650,000 members of the Rohingya community have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the army's operations".

Government troops have been committing killings, making arbitrary arrests, and carrying out arson attacks in Muslim villages in Rakhine.

Nearly 60,000 Rohingya children are now trapped in appalling camps in central Rakhine, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported.

"Please tell the people to protect our journalists!"

Mercado stressed that the Rohingya children "need a political solution to the issue of legal identity and citizenship".

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