The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand demand the immediate release of Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, two Myanmar journalists with the Reuters news agency who were arrested on December 21, 2017.
The pair were formally charged in court on Wednesday for allegedly breaching the draconian Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
The FCC Hong Kong and FCC Thailand do not consider it to be a crime to be handed documents from sources – in this case from police officers who had invited the pair to a meeting. The two journalists were engaged in normal reporting activities, and had not committed any wrongdoing. All charges against them should be dropped.
“They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth,” Wa Lone told reporters as he and Kyaw Soe Oo were led out of the court and back to Yangon’s Insein prison after the 30-minute hearing.
Reuters has expressed its outrage over the arrest and accused Myanmar authorities of an attack on press freedom. A number of senior officials from countries including the UK, US and Canada have appealed to Myanmar authorities to immediately release the journalists. The US State Department has voiced concern for the “safety and security of international reporters who are simply just trying to do their jobs”.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have both recently reported on the refugee crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where a deadly military “clearance operation” has resulted in more than 650,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh.
Their arrest is part of a deepening crackdown on freedom of expression in Myanmar, which is facing severe criticism from the international community for its handling of the Rohingya crisis.
Journalists have been banned from travelling independently to northern Rakhine to investigate the circumstances of the crackdown, and verify refugees’ accounts of murder, mass rape and burning of villages by security forces.
The arrest of these two Myanmar journalists under the Official Secrets Act is unacceptable and counterproductive in a country aiming to take its place in the international community after decades of military rule.
We call on Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian government to act to defend press freedom which is under serious assault as the country undertakes its transition to democracy. It is vital that Myanmar respects the beneficial role of a free and independent media and ensures that journalists are able to do their work without threat of retaliation.