Bangkok, January 10, 2018--Prosecutors in Myanmar today charged two Reuters reporters with violating the Official Secrets Act, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemned the criminal indictment and called on the authorities to drop the charges and release the reporters.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were first arrested and detained on December 12 after meeting with police officials for dinner in Yangon, the country's commercial capital, according to Reuters. The reporters were arrested almost immediately after police handed them documents they said the reporters could review at their homes.
Police said they were arrested for possessing "important and secret" documents related to the situation in the country's western Rakhine state, according to reports. Than Zaw Aung, the journalists' lawyer, said he requested bail, but was refused by a judge who said the motion would be considered at a hearing on January 23, reports said.
Convictions under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act carry possible 14-year prison terms. Myanmar authorities have previously used the law to prosecute and imprison journalists who reported on military affairs perceived as sensitive, CPJ research shows.
"The charges filed against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo represent a giant step backward for press freedom in Myanmar," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Such high-profile legal harassment will inevitably cause other journalists to self-censor their reporting on important stories. These charges should be dropped now before any more damage is done."
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were held incommunicado at an undisclosed location for two weeks before a court hearing on December 27, at which they were remanded for another two weeks. They are now being held at Yangon's Insein prison, according Reuters. Both reporters have said they were not mistreated in custody, the report said.
Both journalists had previously reported on the situation in western Rakhine state, where more than 650,000 Rohingya refugees have fled lethal military "clearance operations," according to news reports. Authorities have bid to suppress news coverage of the situation by denying reporters access to the area.
"We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom," said Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler in a statement. "Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar. We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release."