Myanmar Must Release Detained Reuters Journalists Wa Lone and Moe Aung Immediately

Henrietta Brewer
January 12, 2018

Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on December 12 for allegedly "illegally obtaining and possessing...important and secret government documents", Myanmar's Ministry of Information quoted police as saying.

The reporters "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media", said the statement, which was accompanied by a photo of the pair in handcuffs.

Under the current government, at least 32 journalists have been charged, mostly under colonial-era laws, according to the local group We Support Journalists, the Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors brought the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo during a brief court appearance Wednesday in Yangon.

"We don't know yet where they are even though they were included on the witnesses' list", said Than Zaw Aung.

"The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately", Clinton said in a Twitter post on Monday.

They were detained under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act after they left the restaurant for alleged possession of classified documents obtained "by deception".

"All we know is that we journalists are always facing problems with the military, which means the civilian government has no power".

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo covered the unrest in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state, where some 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee into neighboring Bangladesh to escape a scorched earth campaign against them by military forces.

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

"For democracy to succeed and flourish, journalists must be able to do their jobs", the embassy said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Wa Lone's first job in journalism was with the People's Age journal.

Phil Robertson of the group Human Rights Watch said that "if Aung San Suu Kyi and her government really cared about democratic reforms and governance, they could use their parliamentary majority to quickly reform this antiquated colonial law and bring it into compliance with worldwide human rights standards".

Suu Kyi won a 2015 election and formed a government in early 2016, although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president.

She has made no public comment on the detention of the two Reuters reporters.

Local and foreign media have called the Reuters reporters' arrest a threat to press freedom, and Western countries including the US, UK and Canada have urged the Myanmar government to release them. Than Zaw Aung said in order for the application to be approved, the judge would need to make an exception to the provision under which Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been charged, which is otherwise not a bailable offence.

Numerous journalists have been imprisoned after reporting on abuses taking place in Myanmar's ethnic frontier lands, where the military has been fighting various ethnic guerrilla groups for decades.

The United States and the European Union both called for the men's release on Wednesday.

The letter dated January 8, called on Suu Kyi "to provide the necessary legal protection for these two journalists, to ensure the full respect of their fundamental rights and to release them immediately".

Other reports by iNewsToday