Two Reuters journalists who were arrested by Myanmar authorities and accused of being in possession of official documents related to unrest in Rakhine state were today, July 9, charged under Myanmar’s 1923 Official Secrets Act (OSA), a charge generally reserved for spies.
Journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were earlier today formerly indicted by Yangon district Judge Ye Lwin for breaching the OSA in their reporting on the ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State last year which saw more than 700,000 Rohingya flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.
The indictments follow more than six months of pre-trial preparation during which the two Reuters journalists have steadfastly maintained they were simply doing their job. If convicted the pair face up to 14 years in jail.
Prior to their arrest at a restaurant in Yangon on December 12 last year the two Reuters journalists had been investigating allegations of a military massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Massacre of Rohingya
Among the the accusations was that ten Muslim Rohingya had been murdered in Inn Din village in northern Rakhine State.
Their in-depth reporting was published by Reuters in February 2018 with their byline above graphic images and damning first-hand accounts of Buddhist villagers and Myanmar soldiers shooting and hacking the victims to death before burying them in a mass grave.
Human rights and media freedom activists, as well as politicians, and professional media bodies globally have been quick to label the decision to prosecute the two Reuters journalists as an unjust abuse of power and an attempt at muzzling a free press in Myanmar.
Others have labelled the prosecution of Mr Wa and Mr Kyaw as a thuggish attempt by the Tatmadaw and the Myanmar government to warn journalists that exposing its atrocities for the world to see and potentially frightening of foreign investment, not to mention not inconsiderable amounts of aid money and zero-interest loans, will not be tolerated.
Acts of Genocide
The decision by the court to formerly indict the Reuters journalists puts additional international pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi, who is already facing condemnation for the country’s acts of genocide against the Rohingya.
Stephen Adler, Reuters president and editor-in-chief expressed his disappointment over the arrest saying “we are outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom.
“These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way, and there are no facts or evidence to suggest that they’ve done anything wrong or broken any law. They should be released and reunited with their families, friends, and colleagues,” he added.
The Myanmar military admitted in January this year that its forces had played a role in massacres in Rahkine State last year and detained seven soldiers who are currently facing trial.
During the court hearing today, which lasted a brief 20 minutes, both Reuters journalists plead not guilty, with defence lawyers arguing that the evidence was deficient on all grounds.
Meanwhile the US Embassy in Myanmar described the decision as casting ” serious doubt on Myanmar’s commitment to press freedom and the rule of law”.
Feature video Wochit News
- Reuters reporters to face Myanmar trial for ‘breaking’ secrecy law (Bangkok Post)
- Case Against Reuters Journalists in Myanmar Moves to Trial (The New York Times)
- Reuters Journalists Arrested For Investigating Myanmar Rohingya Massacre (NDTV)