EU Calls on Myanmar to Free Reuters Journalists

EU Calls on Myanmar to Free Reuters Journalists

EU Calls on Myanmar to Free Reuters Journalists

After they were detained, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the arrests showed how press freedom was deteriorating in Myanmar, while U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for their immediate release.

Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on December 12 for allegedly "illegally obtaining and possessing...important and secret government documents", Myanmar's Ministry of Information quoted police as saying.

The charges brought against them could carry a penalty of up to 14 years behind bars.

Several non-governmental and journalist organisations have called the arrests an attack on the freedom of the press.

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.

"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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A district judge said police charged the pair under a section of the Official Secrets Act which punishes anyone who "obtains, collects, records or publishes... any official document or information" which could be "useful to an enemy".

She has made no public comment on the detention of the two Reuters reporters.

"The proceedings against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are a transparent attempt to intimidate the media and to prevent coverage of the unfolding tragedy of the Rohingya people in Myanmar's Rakhine state", said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator.

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.

"We are not doing anything wrong", Mr. Kyaw Soe Oo told journalists after the hearing.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power referred in a post on Twitter to the detention of the two reporters as "an outrage & symptom of a world without credible US leadership".

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Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Thai foreign minister and the head of a new worldwide advisory panel on the Rohingya crisis, also expressed concern at the arrest of the reporters and said he hoped the case did not lead to broader restrictions on the global media.

"Journalists able to work in a free and enabling environment without fear of intimidation or undue arrest or prosecution", he said in a letter dated January 8, as reported by Reuters.

The media and NGOs have been barred from entering northern Rakhine where the Myanmar military stands accused of committing atrocities against the Rohingya during the crackdown which the United Nations and US say amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Friends say Kyaw Soe Oo avoided becoming caught up in the tension between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims but the conflict drew him into journalism.

The Danish Embassy in Yangon meanwhile has joined a growing chorus of calls for the two journalists' release.

Both reporters were arrested December 12.

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