Reuters reporters charged under espionage act in Myanmar

Reuters reporters charged under espionage act in Myanmar

Former US President Bill Clinton on Monday called for the immediate release of two Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar.

The two reporters, Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were detained in Yangon by Burmese authorities on 12 December, allegedly in possession of sensitive government documents. The reporters had met two police officers for dinner on the outskirts of Yangon, the country's largest city, where they were handed documents believed to pertain to military operations against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.

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.

"We call on the government of Myanmar to drop the legal charges against and immediately release Wa Lone and Moe Aung, and to allow journalists to do their jobs without fear of similar repercussions".

A few days after the arrests Myanmar's President Htin Kyaw, a close ally and confidant of the country's de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, authorised police to proceed with charges against them under the country's Official Secrets Act.

"Please tell the people to protect our journalists!"

Suu Kyi won a 2015 election and formed a government in early 2016, although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president. The reporters were invited to meet with police officials.

In November, a Myanmar court sentenced a Malaysian and a Singaporean journalist, along with their two local guides, to two months imprisonment for violating the country's aviation law by attempting to fly a drone in front of the parliament building in Nay Pyi Taw.

"We are disappointed by today's decision to pursue charges against Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under the Official Secrets Act".

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A lawyer for both journalists, U Than Zaw Aung, said that Mr. Wa Lone is suffering from a hernia and back pain but has received no medical treatment while in detention.

In November, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded the journalists' "immediate release or information as to the circumstances around their disappearance", while European Union representative to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt warned that their prosecution "amounts to a series intimidation against journalists" in Myanmar. "Please set them free", she said.

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.

The government has denied that their arrests represent an attack on press freedom and Suu Kyi's spokesman has said the case would be handled according to the law.

Authorities have blocked most media access to the north of Rakhine State, where Rohingya militant attacks on the security forces on August 25 sparked the military crackdown.

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

The Danish Embassy in Yangon meanwhile has joined a growing chorus of calls for the two journalists' release.

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.

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