Myanmar prosecutors are pushing to lay charges against two detained Reuters reporters, under the Official Secrets Act, who made a scheduled appearance before a Yangon court.
The accused men, 31-year-old Wa Lone and 27-year-old Kyaw Soe Oo, were led into the district court with their wrists in iron chains. Wa and Kyaw could face a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in prison, their legal representative shared. Local journalists who gathered outside the court showed solidarity by wearing black to protest the arrest of the two men.
They were detained on Dec. 12, and held in custody for nearly a month, after being invited to meet with officers. They were accused of violating the Act by acquiring “important secret papers” from two policemen.
“It’s up to the court to decide whether the journalists are guilty or not because as a government, we don’t interfere in the country’s judicial system,” government spokesman Zaw Htay said.
Kristian Schmidt, representative of the European Union in Yangon, sent a letter to Myanmar’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, urging the government to release the two journalists.
“Journalists should ... be able to work in a free and enabling environment without fear of intimidation or undue arrest or prosecution,” he said in the letter.
“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,” he added.
The two worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar, where – according to United Nations’ estimates – about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled a military crackdown to neighboring Bangladesh.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were allegedly working on a story related to the recent eruption of violence in the state, where hundreds of people were killed in clashes with government forces and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Under the current government, at least 32 journalists have been charged, according to the local group We Support Journalists, the Associated Press reported.