Published: Sun, January 14, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

European Union concerned over detention of journalists in Myanmar

European Union concerned over detention of journalists in Myanmar

Myanmar reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were formally indicted by prosecutors in Yangon on Wednesday for breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which could sentence them to a maximum of 14 years in prison, their lawyer said.

They had worked on coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where a military crackdown that followed militant attacks on security forces in August led to an exodus of more than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Through state media, the NLD-controlled information ministry had laid the groundwork for reporters in the pay of overseas news agencies to be viewed as the equivalent of spies.

"The judge will be decide whether they are guilty or not according to the law", he told Reuters.

They are now facing up to 14 years in prison under Myanmar's Official Secrets Act, a 1923 law that is rarely used except to make the media understand that the military do not want to be the subject of investigative reporting.

The department also reiterated its call for the journalists' immediate and unconditional release. We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release. Arrest and detention are unlawful when individuals are arrested or detained for engaging in activity, such as exercising the right to freedom of expression, protected under global law.

Shortly after the hearing, Reuters president Mr Stephen J. Adler said the charges were "wholly unwarranted" and a "blatant attack on press freedom".

"We call for their release". Prosecutors formally charged the journalists under the act in court on Wednesday.

"In the USA, it's under attack in a frighteningly casual way".

- The spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general said on Wednesday the United Nations team in Myanmar was following the case very closely.

The same month as their release, prominent journalist Ko Swe Win was arrested at Yangon Airport on suspicion of violating the notorious clause 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Act, which covers online defamation, for a Facebook post deemed critical of nationalist monk U Wirathu.

"Given the current hostile climate toward media professionals in the United States, the arrest of these two Myanmar journalists, which is a grave betrayal of a free press, hits especially close to home".

"There is deep concern and it is very worrying to see that press freedom in Myanmar is really declining", he said from the French capital, Paris.

Japan wants to raise the matter of the two reporters with the Myanmar government at appropriate opportunities, including a visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono this week, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo.

- Advocacy group Fortify Rights said the reporters were arrested for doing their jobs and should be released immediately.

"I never made any mistake; I never did anything wrong", Wa Lone said before leaving the court.

Daniel Bastard, Asia Pacific region head for Reporters Without Borders, said the pair were "just being used as scapegoats to shut down the mouths of courageous journalists". "This is clearly an attempt by the authorities to silence investigations into military violations and crimes against Rohingya in Rakhine State, and to scare other journalists away from doing the same".

"The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately".

Under the country's Official Secrets Act, the men may face up to 14 years in prison.

Global leaders, including former USA president Bill Clinton, and government officials from some of the world's major nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as United Nations officials, have called for their release.

Respect for these freedoms is a cornerstone of any democratic society.

As the Myanmar government has met the worldwide outcry over alleged atrocities against the Rohingya with blanket denials, critical foreign media has increasingly been viewed as part of a "fake news" conspiracy aimed at destabilizing the country.

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