ibusinesslines.com March 17, 2018

Myanmar: Reuters journalists must be released

12 January 2018, 03:23 | Melissa Porter

Stacks of Myanmar kyat at a bank in Yangon

Stacks of Myanmar kyat are seen on the counter before a client collects them at a bank in Yangon Myanmar

If ultimately convicted, they face up to 14 years in prison.

"It seems to be an effort to disappear the source of the leaks - or at least the people who have taken care of these documents provided by villagers in Rakhine state that would indicate military assaults on Rohingya", Francis Wade, a London-based freelance journalist and author of Myanmar's Enemy Within, told VOA.

In one of its firmest statements yet, the 28-nation bloc, which is a significant donor to Myanmar, said that the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo was an important test for the country's commitment to developing democracy after years of military rule. Wa Lone wrote a children's book and co-founded a charity that promotes tolerance between different ethnic groups and helps orphans.

"According to the section, the two journalists can not get bail". Than Zaw Aung said in order for the application to be approved, the judge would need to make an exception to the provision under which Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been charged, which is otherwise not a bailable offence. The journalists are being held in the notoriously harsh Insein✓ prison in Yangon.

Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were questioned at the Aung Tha Pyay police interrogation center in Yangon Region's Mayangone Township for 15 days before appearing at the Mingalardon Township Court for the first time on December 27.

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.

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.

The U.S. embassy said it was "very disappointed" by the decision to pursue charges.

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.

The military has severely restricted access to northern Rakhine state to journalists, aid groups and observers. On Tuesday, Clinton called for the men to be "released immediately".

Japan wants to raise the matter of the two reporters with the Myanmar government at appropriate opportunities, including a visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono this week, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo.

Myanmar sought charges Wednesday against two Reuters journalists who stand accused of breaching the state secrets act, in a case that has renewed fears about press freedom in the country.

Suu Kyi won a 2015 election and formed a government in early 2016, although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president.

"We therefore call on your government to provide the necessary legal protection for these two journalists, to ensure the full respect of their fundamental rights and to release them immediately". The government has denied that their arrests represent an attack on press freedom.

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