Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Arrested Reuters journalists appear at Myanmar court hearing

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference in Naypyitaw Myanmar Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference in Naypyitaw Myanmar
Steve Townsend | 12 January, 2018, 03:23

NEW YORK-Ahead of an expected court appearance on January 10, PEN America calls for Myanmar authorities to immediately release detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Moe Aung (also known as Kyaw Soe Oo).

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where - according to United Nations estimates - about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from a fierce military crackdown on militants.

The two journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, are due in court tomorrow.

The journalists' lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, said the prosecutor formally indicted the pair and they now face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

"A free press is critical to a free society - the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable", Clinton said in a Twitter post on Monday.

Kristian Schmidt, representative of the European Union in Yangon, sent a letter to Myanmar's de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, urging the government to release the two journalists.

The ministry said they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media" and faced charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Myanmar journalists say despite the army's promise in 2011 to allow liberal reforms and press freedom as the country opened to the world, a pervasive network of undercover intelligence agents and their informants has not been dismantled under Suu Kyi's government.

He said authorities claimed that the two policemen who supposedly attended the dinner were also arrested but the reporters say they are not the ones who gave them the documents, and authorities have failed to explain explained the glaring inconsistency.

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

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

The most well-documented recent case was in 2014, when the Unity Journal weekly published an article it said exposed a secret military chemical weapons factory.

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.

The US Embassy in Myanmar led reaction to the court decision, expressing disappointment and calling for the "immediate release" of the reporters.

"We view this as a whole unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom", said Reuters president and editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler.

Family members of the journalists, who were present at the court, told a news conference late a year ago that police may have fabricated a case for their arrest.

Top officials from the United Nations and several countries, including Britain and Canada, have called for the release of the pair.

Authorities have blocked access to media seeking to cover the military crackdown in the north of Rakhine State.

Rohingya in Bangladesh refugee camps have given consistent accounts of rape and murder at the hands of the Myanmar military and Buddhist vigilantes.

"We therefore call on your government to provide the necessary legal protection for these two journalists, to ensure the full respect of their fundamental rights and to release them immediately".

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