Reuters reporters face 14 years for 'receiving Rohingya secrets'

Kenny Tucker
January 12, 2018

"Rohingyas must not be sent back to the genocide zones of Burma without security and citizenship", said Abdul Malik Mujahid, chairman of Burma Task Force USA, a coalition of 19 US and Canadian Muslim organizations dedicated to advocating for the Rohingya and ending genocide in Myanmar.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested December 12 after police accused them of violating the colonial-era law by acquiring "important secret papers" from two policemen. State officials have confirmed the two are being investigated for breaching Myanmar's Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Amnesty International's South East Asia Director said: "Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo must be immediately and unconditionally released".

"We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release".

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

"The charges filed against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo represent a giant step backward for press freedom in Myanmar", Shawn Crispin of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement Wednesday.

Refugees who have fled in their hundreds of thousands to neighbouring Bangladesh have given consistent accounts of massacres by Myanmar security forces flanked by ethnic Rakhine mobs.

The Foreign Correspondents Clubs of Thailand and Hong Kong released a joint statement calling for the immediate release of the journalists.

Wa Lone became a Reuters journalist in 2016.

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Government spokesman Zaw Htay declined to comment on the charges but said the two had their rights under an independent judicial system.

"As the villagers and security troops confessed to the killings, they will be prosecuted according to the law", it reads.

Observers from the United Nations and from several embassies, including the Netherlands, Australia and Britain were at the court.

"For democracy to succeed and flourish", the embassy said, "journalists must be able to do their jobs".

"We would like to ask the Myanmar government to determine citizenship according to these documents", he said.

Authorities have largely banned media from the conflict zone.

Tweeting in support of the journalists, former United States president Bill Clinton said: "A free press is critical to a free society-the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable".

She stressed that Unicef stood ready to work with the Myanmar government and Rakhine state authorities to provide humanitarian relief to all children - regardless of ethnicity, religion, or status - but needed unlimited access.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said last month Canada was "deeply concerned" over their detention. "In the interim, they need to be recognised first and foremost as children", she said, stressing that the Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees rights to health, education and opportunities to learn and grow to all children, irrespective of their ethnicity or status or the circumstances in which they find themselves.

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