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FCC Hong Kong statement on cancellation of FCCT talk on Myanmar war crimes report

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, supports the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand as it expresses disappointment over the move by Thai officials to cancel a discussion about a UN-backed report on alleged war crimes in neighbouring Myanmar.

The report last month by UN investigators detailed atrocities committed against the country’s Rohingya minority, among others, and called for military leaders to face international justice.

Stifling reporting in Thailand on the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has a negative effect on press freedom across the region.

The following is a statement from the FCCT:

The professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand is deeply disappointed by the decision of the Thai authorities to shut down a planned discussion about a hard-hitting report by the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released last month. The report recommended prosecution of Myanmar’s military leaders for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in ethnic minority areas.

In a letter ordering the FCCT to cancel the event, the Thai police stated that the discussion might be used by ‘third parties’ to cause unrest and endanger national security. There are no grounds whatever for such suspicions. The club has regularly held orderly and informative panel discussions on current affairs for over 62 years, and these have never led to any unrest or subversion. The FCCT has also hosted dozens of events on Myanmar over the decades, and these have generally contributed to a better understanding of the country and its relations with others in the region.

The professional membership of the FCCT believe the Thai authorities have overreacted. This incident has caused unnecessary further harm to the country’s already dented reputation for media freedom — Thailand was once one of the freest countries in Southeast Asia with a vibrant press.

For the record, this is the sixth programme cancelled at the FCCT since a coup was staged in 2014 and the country became subject to military rule.

10 September 2018

Foreign press clubs call for immediate release of Reuters journalists in Myanmar

Three months ago, Myanmar police invited two Reuters reporters to a restaurant in northern Yangon. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men who were buried in a mass grave after being hacked to death or shot by ethnic Rakhine Buddhist villagers and soldiers.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski

At the dinner, police handed the pair some documents. They were arrested almost immediately afterward and later charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

On the 100th day since the arrest of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, 10 foreign correspondents’ clubs throughout Asia are again calling for their immediate release. The two journalists were engaged in normal reporting activities, and had not committed any wrongdoing. All charges against them should be dropped.

“We are not doing anything wrong,” Kyaw Soe Oo told reporters after the pair were formally charged. “Please help us by uncovering the truth.”

Their trial is now underway, with a verdict possible in the coming weeks. The outcome will have repercussions for Myanmar and the entire region, where press freedom is increasingly under attack.

We call on Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian government to act to defend press freedom 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 work without threat of retaliation.

FCC Hong kong's president Florence de Changy (left) with Geoff Crothall from the Press Freedom Committee at the Myanmar consulate on March 21. The consulate had closed early but building management promised they would hand in the 3 volumes of signatures to the consulate when it opens again. FCC Hong Kong’s president Florence de Changy (left) with Geoff Crothall from the Press Freedom Committee at the Myanmar consulate on March 21. The consulate had closed early but building management promised they would hand in the 3 volumes of signatures to the consulate when it opens again.

We also call on all those who believe in press freedom to keep up the pressure on authorities who want to silence journalists, in Myanmar and elsewhere around the globe. One easy place to start is by signing a petition for their release: goo.gl/1kPTwX

A delegation of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong walked to the Myanmar consulate on Wednesday, March 21 to hand over a petition with more than 42,000 signatures demanding the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

“We are not doing anything wrong,” Kyaw Soe Oo told reporters after the pair were formally charged. “Please help us by uncovering the truth.”

#FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo

Foreign Correspondents Association of Singapore
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China
Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand
Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club
National Press Club of Australia
Editorial Committee, The Society of Publishers in Asia
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia, New Delhi
The Overseas Press Club of Cambodia

Democracy Now reports on the story – watch from 5 minutes 20 seconds.

FCC Hong Kong and FCC Thailand call for the immediate release of Reuters journalists held in Myanmar

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.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski

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.

FCC Hong Kong calls for immediate release of Reuters journalists held in Myanmar

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong calls for the immediate release of Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, two Myanmar journalists with the Reuters news agency who were arrested on Wednesday.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski

The pair have been charged under a section of the Official Secrets Act that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. The government has released a photograph of them wearing handcuffs with documents displayed before them.

Reuters has expressed its outrage over the arrest and accused Myanmar authorities of an attack on press freedom.

The US State Department has also 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 600,000 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.

In November, two foreign journalists along with their interpreter and driver were sentenced to two months imprisonment for filming with a drone without official permission. And in June three journalists were detained in war-torn northern Shan state and spent two months in custody.

As Myanmar undertakes its transition to democracy, it is vital that the country respects the beneficial role of a free and independent media and ensures that journalists are able to do their work without threat of retaliation.

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.

Amnesty International investigating possibility of genocide in Rohingya crisis

The persecution of the Rohingya people is a humanitarian crisis, but evidence is yet to determine whether genocide has occurred, said Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia and Pacific regional director.

Dr James Gomez talked about the Rohingya crisis at the FCC on November 1. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Dr James Gomez talked about the Rohingya crisis at the FCC on November 1. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Dr James Gomez told members attending a club cocktail event on human rights crises in the region that evidence had so far shown the systematic burning of Rohingya villages in the Rakhine region of Myanmar, and that women and children were separated and some subjected to rape. However, reports that men and boys of fighting age were taken into forests and executed were still being investigated.

Dr Gomez said genocide was “a very technical and legal term” and that satellite imagery was being used to determine whether there were mass graves in forest areas.

The displacement of the Rohingya, described as the world’s most persecuted people , and made up mostly of Muslims, is the biggest crisis currently facing the Asia Pacific region. Since violence broke out in northern Rakhine state on 25 August this year, when militants killed government forces, Myanmar’s military has launched a “clearance operation” that has been described as ethnic cleansing, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. It has also forced 600,000 to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East Asia, spoke about China's role in the crisis. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East Asia, spoke about China’s role in the crisis. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Myanmar refuses to recognise Rohingya as citizens, and places restrictions on their freedom of movement, access to medical assistance, education and other basic services. The de facto head of Myanmar’s government, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticised for remaining silent on the militia campaign against the Rohingya.

Amnesty International, a non-profit organisation that promotes human rights and has a global supporter base of seven million, has spent the last few weeks investigating materials submitted by international aid workers, journalists, medics and witnesses to the ongoing oppression of the Rohingya. It is the responsibility of Dr Gomez, a former Singaporean politician, to verify that material to determine whether crimes against humanity have occurred.

He told the FCC event on November 1: “There was systematic and targeted burning of Rohingya villages and houses. People were shot as they fled.” He added that evidence from medics on the ground had shown bullet wounds in the backs and backs of legs of victims.

FCC board member and journalist Florence de Changy was one of the audience members to pose a question. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC FCC board member and journalist Florence de Changy was one of the audience members to pose a question. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Dr Gomez said those responsible for the violence against the Rohingya were Myanmar’s Western Command, and Light Infantry 33 and 99 divisions. He said Amnesty International was also investigating the role of the senior general commander of the Myanmar military.

Of Aung San Suu Kyi, he said she was isolated and “sitting on a thin crust” with her party, the National League for Democracy, because there appeared to be no communication with other “old boy’s club” members.

China also took some criticism for not participating in diplomatic discussions on the matter due to its economic interests in Myanmar. Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East Asia, said that for China to claim with any credibility that the situation in Myanmar was only an internal issue was “ridiculous”.

FCC statement on detention of photojournalists covering Rohingya crisis

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong and the Editorial Committee of The Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) are deeply concerned about the detention of photojournalist Minzayar Oo and his assistant Hkun Lat, Myanmar citizens who were on assignment in Bangladesh for GEO magazine to cover the Rohingya crisis. We call on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release both of them.

Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat were assigned by GEO magazine because of their professionalism and their journalistic integrity. Minzayar Oo is an internationally renowned, award winning photojournalist, whose work is published widely and has been recognised by some of the world’s most important journalism awards.

The pair were detained more than a week ago in Cox’s Bazar, where around 400,000 Rohingya have sought refuge since August from the fresh violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Their lawyer told AFP that they were charged with “false impersonation” and providing “false information” after police accused them of using the cover of tourist visas to enter the country, instead of journalist visas.

Cox’s Bazar police station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Ranjit Kumar Barua said the pair were also “primarily accused of espionage.”

“They were collecting information on the Rohingya for Myanmar,” he said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was unable to get comments regarding the matter from the Cox’s Bazar police immediately. Calls to Ranjit Barua were unanswered, and police did not respond to email promptly.

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