European Union calls for release of reuters journalists charged in Myanmar

Burma/Myanmar – Press freedom (10 January 2018)

The pair were taken into custody on December 12 after being invited to dine with police officers on the outskirts of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, according to Reuters. "It will come out in the trial".

The U.S. said it was "deeply disappointed" by Myanmar's decision to pursue charges.

Than Zaw Aung also insisted that the arrests amounted to entrapment by police, who had contacted them for a meeting in Yangon to hand over documents about the situation in northern Rakhine.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay declined to comment on the charges but said the two had their rights under an independent judicial system.

The prosecutor objected to an application for bail, the reporters' lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said.

Than Zaw Aung, an attorney representing the journalists, told RFA's Myanmar Service following the journalists' second hearing in Yangon that the defense team submitted a bail petition to be considered at the next hearing on January 23, hoping that the judge will grant an exception for what is otherwise not a bailable offense.

"They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth", Wa Lone told reporters as he and Kyaw Soe Oo were led out of the court and back to Yangon's Insein prison after the 30-minute hearing.

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. On January 10, the Insein Court formally accepted charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under Section 3.1 (c) of the 1923 Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law that makes it an offense to "obtain" or "collect" any material or information "calculated to be or might be or is meant to be...useful to an enemy". The Ministry of Information says they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

"They have done absolutely nothing but carry out their legitimate work as journalists", said James Gomez, Amnesty International's Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in a statement on Wednesday.

"We didn't violate any media ethics".

The pair had been reporting on the military campaign in the northern Rakhine state that has forced some 655,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee over the border to Bangladesh since August, violence the United Nations has condemned as ethnic cleansing.


The government has said two police officers were also arrested for investigation under suspicion of having violated the Official Secrets Act. The six were initially charged under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act but were released without charge in July, having spent nearly two months in jail.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reiterated its call for the immediate release of two Burmese reporters working for the Reuters news agency.

Then in October, three journalists and their driver were arrested for flying a drone near the parliament building in Nay Pyi Taw. However, the NLD civilian government could, in principle, have chosen not to seek charges. In July 2014, the so-called "Unity Five" were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour.

Observers from a number of foreign embassies attended the trial on Wednesday, and there has been much worldwide criticism.

Before Wednesday's hearing, former US President Bill Clinton joined the chorus calling for the pair's release.

Shortly after the hearing, Reuters president Mr Stephen J. Adler said the charges were "wholly unwarranted" and a "blatant attack on press freedom". Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar.

"We reiterate our call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's immediate and unconditional release", it said.

Respect for these freedoms is a cornerstone of any democratic society.

This week, former USA president Bill Clinton also weighed in on the issue.

"Having heard the charges brought under the Official Secrets Act of 1923, we continue to expect the Myanmar authorities to ensure the full protection of these journalists' rights and to release them as quickly as possible", an European Union spokesman said, adding that European Union envoys had been present in court.

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