Detained Reuters duo due in Myanmar court

Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo was arrested a month ago for alleged possession of classified documents obtained 'by deception'. – EPA pic, January 10, 2018.

TWO Reuters journalists are due in a Myanmar court today, where they could be charged under a secrecy law that carries up to 14 years in jail, as calls escalate for their release.

Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested a month ago after receiving documents from two policemen during a dinner in Yangon.

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

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

The issue is highly sensitive inside Myanmar.

Reuters insists that its reporters have done nothing wrong, while their families have suggested the pair were set up.

The US and European Union have led global calls for the journalists to be freed, while Amnesty International late yesterday repeated its appeal for their immediate release.

“They have done absolutely nothing but carrying out their legitimate work as journalists,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Journalist Wa Lone is one of two Myanmar nationals who had been reporting on a military-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. – EPA pic, January 10, 2018.

Former US president Bill Clinton also weighed in on the issue.

“A free press is critical to a free society – the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable,” he tweeted on Monday.

“The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately.”

The case has cast a spotlight on Myanmar’s troubled transition to democracy after nearly five decades of military rule.

It touches on both slumping press freedom and the Rohingya crisis, two issues that have raised questions over the country’s ability to shake off the legacy of junta rule.

Much of the Buddhist-majority population supports the army in what it calls a legitimate campaign against Rohingya militants after attacks against border guard police killed about a dozen last year.

The military has severely restricted access to northern Rakhine state to journalists, aid groups and observers.

The Reuters reporters were held incommunicado for two weeks without access to lawyers, family or colleagues before a brief court appearance to extend their remand for a further two weeks.

They must either be charged at today’s hearing or released. – AFP, January 10, 2018.

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