Reuters journalists charged in Myanmar

January 10, 2018

Myanmar prosecutors are seeking charges against two Reuters reporters under the Official Secrets Act

Two Reuters journalists detained in Myanmar are due to appear in court, when prosecutors could request that charges be filed against them over an accusation they broke the country's Official Secrets Act.

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where - according to United Nations estimates - about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims fled from a fierce military crackdown on militants.

The reporters were detained on December 12 after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner.

The Ministry of Information has cited the police as saying they were "arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces".

The ministry said they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media" and faced charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

The reporters have told relatives they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some documents at a restaurant by two policemen who they had not met before.

The two appeared in court for the first time on December 27, when they were remanded for another two weeks. During that hearing, they were allowed to meet relatives and a lawyer for the first time since being arrested.

Government officials from some of the world's major nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as top United Nations officials, have called for the release of the reporters.

Human rights group Amnesty International also called for the immediate release of the two and for freedom of speech to be respected.

"These arrests have not happened in a vacuum, but come as authorities are increasingly restricting independent media," Amnesty International said in a statement.

"Journalists and media outlets, in particular those who report on 'sensitive topics', are living with the constant fear of harassment, intimidation or arrest. This clampdown on freedom of speech must end."

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