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Burma: Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo charged under Official Secrets Act

Reuters journalist Wa Lone (C) is escorted by police as he arrives for a court appearance in Yangon, Burma, 10 January 2018
Reuters journalist Wa Lone (C) is escorted by police as he arrives for a court appearance in Yangon, Burma, 10 January 2018

YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 12 January 2018.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on authorities of Myanmar to immediately release two Reuters journalists who were charged yesterday under the Official Secrets Act and are facing up to 14 years imprisonment over their coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Journalists working for Reuters news agency Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested on 12 December and have now been charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act after two policemen handed them classified documents linked to the Rohingya refugee crisis, media reported. The journalists went missing after the meeting and were finally found under police detention.

Media reports allege that sensitive records contained in the Myanmar Border Guard document included detailing security force numbers and the amount of ammunition used in a wave of attacks in late August. The Official Secrets Act makes it unlawful to acquire and possess classified documents from the state and both journalists face up to 14 years in prison if convicted. The act dates from the colonial-era when Myanmar was part of the British Empire.

The judge yesterday denied bail request from Wa Lone and Kyan Soe Oo and set the next hearing for 23 January when the request will be reviewed.

IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, condemned the actions taken by Myanmar authorities and said that “placing press freedom back to colonial times and charging journalists with laws dating back to 1923 are actions of an undemocratic state. Myanmar needs to amend the Official Secret Act and its repressive media law.”

Correspondents say that, despite the return of democratic rule in Myanmar, media and reporters are placed under constant pressure by the authorities who often resort to defamation, arrests, prosecutions, and military detention.

The IFJ reported some other cases of media freedom restrictions last year, when criticism of nationalist monks on social media brought investigative journalist Swe Win to the court in July. In addition, three journalists were arrested in June while reporting on a drug-burning ceremony for “unlawful association” and were released from jail two months later. There was also the case of three journalists working for Turkish TRT broadcaster who were arrested in November for flying drone near parliament. They were jailed for two months and released in December.

“The IFJ urges the authorities to secure freedom of press in Myanmar and to stop intimidation of journalists. The number of incidents when journalists were prevented from exercising their profession is unacceptably high. We call on the authorities to drop all the charges against our colleagues as a matter of urgency,” added Anthony Bellanger.

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