Reuters Journalists Face Court In Myanmar

Reuters Journalists Face Court In Myanmar

NEW YORK-Ahead of an expected court appearance on January 10, PEN America calls for Myanmar authorities to immediately release detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Moe Aung (also known as Kyaw Soe Oo).

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were detained on December 12 after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner. "They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth", Wa Lone told reporters as the pair were led out of the court and back to prison following Wednesday's 30-minute hearing.

"A free press is critical to a free society - the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable", Clinton tweeted.

Prosecutors in Myanmar formally charged two Reuters reporters under archaic, colonial-era secrecy laws Wednesday as criticism grew over the restriction of press freedoms in the country under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Ministry of Information said in a statement on its Facebook page that the journalists and two policemen face charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

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Suu Kyi won a 2015 election and formed Myanmar's first civilian government in more than half a century in early 2016, although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president.

The two were arrested on December 12 after they met with their police sources in Yangon who allegedly handed to them the classified documents.

Former US President Bill Clinton also urged that they be freed immediately.

"None of the claims made by the authorities, in this case, seems to be credible", said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk.

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About 30 journalists were outside the court, most dressed in black as a sign of protest against the arrest of the pair.

"He wanted to hold his baby but he couldn't because of the handcuffs", said Chit Su, the wife of Kyaw Soe Oo.

"We are outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom. And by targeting a high-profile news organization like Reuters, it shows no journalist is safe to report on sensitive stories in Myanmar".

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

"It's up to the court to decide whether the journalists are guilty or not because as a government, we don't interfere in the country's judicial system", government spokesman Zaw Htay said.

Top officials from the United Nations and several countries, including Britain and Canada, have called for the release of the pair.

The military has severely restricted access to northern Rakhine state to journalists, aid groups and observers. The reporters said they had not been mistreated in custody.

The specific charges authorities want to level against the two journalists come from the law's Section 3.1 which deals with people accused of giving over information that could be "useful to an enemy", Reuters reported.

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