Reuters Journalists Charged In Myanmar After Reporting On Rohingya Disaster

Reuters Journalists Charged In Myanmar After Reporting On Rohingya Disaster

Many nations, including the United States, Canada and several European countries, as well as top United Nations and EU officials have demanded the release of the reporters - Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27.

More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape a brutal crackdown in which security forces have been accused of systematic abuses tantamount to ethnic cleansing.

It said the men had "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

At the time of their arrest, the government said the officers, Police Deputy Major Moe Yan Naing and Police Sergeant Khin Maung Lin, would also face charges under the Official Secrets Act.

"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). As Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were bundled back into a waiting prison van, their families broke down in shouts and tears.

Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler said he was extremely disappointed that the authorities were seeking to prosecute the pair. He added that the "independent judicial process" must continue, to determine whether Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are "guilty or not".

The case has brought widespread condemnation, both inside and outside the country, and comes at a time that journalists inside Myanmar are feeling increasingly under threat, amid a series of high profile arrests of reporters in the past year, as Myanmar's government and military tackles with worldwide criticism for its handling of the crisis in Rakhine State. Prosecutors formally charged the journalists under the act in court on Wednesday. Amnesty International [press release] said this is part of a growing climate in Myanmar where journalism is stifled and members of the press find themselves in increasingly hostile environments. Representatives of the United Nations and various embassies including the UK, the US, Australia and the Netherlands attended the hearing.

The US Embassy in Myanmar condemned [statement] the arrests and called for the release of the journalists.

"It is indeed very disappointing that an old draconian law from the colonial era is being used by a democratically elected government to suppress press freedom", it said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Kono's three-day visit to Myanmar includes travelling to Rakhine state. "It's not too late for the government to unconditionally drop the charges and let them go home to their families".

Both men face up to 14 years in prison if convicted under the Official Secrets Act, which dates back almost a century ago, when Myanmar was under British colonial rule.

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

The NewsGuild will be spreading awareness of the detained Reuters employees online, calling for journalists and supporters to change their social media avatars to graphics in solidarity with the arrested journalists.

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

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

Global leaders, including former U.S. 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.

As the Myanmar government has met the global 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. On January 8, former United States President Bill Clinton tweeted: "A free press is critical to a free society - the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable".

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