Reuters reporters charged with breaching Myanmar secrecy law

Journalists dressed in black are seen next to police officers as they wait for the arrival of Reuters reporters Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone at a court in Yangon today. Members of the media covering the proceedings wore black in protest against the arrest of the duo, who were nabbed a month ago under the Official Secrets Act. – AFP pic, January 10, 2018.

TWO Reuters journalists were formally charged by police in a Myanmar court today with breaching a colonial-era secrecy law that carries up to 14 years in jail, despite calls for their immediate release.

Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested a month ago under the Official Secrets Act after they were allegedly given classified documents by two policemen over dinner.

The pair had been reporting on the military campaign in northern 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 incendiary inside Myanmar, where authorities deny any wrongdoing during an army crackdown on militants from the Muslim minority.

A police officer “filed the case to charge under the state secret act (Official Secrets Act), Section 3.1(c)”, a district judge told the court.

The section punishes anyone who “obtains, collects, records or publishes… any official document or information” that could be “useful to an enemy”.

The pair will return to the court on January 23 for legal arguments, when the bench will decide whether to accept the case under Myanmar’s arcane legal system.

Emotive scenes gripped the Yangon courthouse, with the journalists’ family members in tears and the reporters issuing desperate pleas before being led back to detention.

“Please tell the people to protect our journalists,” Kyaw Soe Oo shouted to the court.

His colleague, Wa Lone, said his wife was pregnant, adding: “I’m trying to be strong.”

The case has shocked Myanmar’s embattled press corps.

Journalists covering today’s proceedings wore black in protest against their arrest, carrying banners proclaiming “Journalism is not a crime”.

“We applied for bail, but the prosecutors rejected it,” the journalists’ lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told AFP.

“So, we are going to give arguments in detail in the next trial.” – AFP, January 10, 2018.

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