Myanmar charges two Reuters reporters under Official Secrets Act

Official Secrets Act charges sought against reporters in Myanmar

Detained Reuters Journalists Appear in Myanmar Court

"Having heard the charges brought under the Official Secrets Act of 1923, we continue to expect the Myanmar authorities to ensure the full protection of these journalists' rights and to release them as quickly as possible", an European Union spokesman said, adding that European Union envoys had been present in court. The act makes it illegal to enter prohibited places, take images or handle secret official documents that "might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy". 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.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were held incommunicado at an undisclosed location for two weeks before a court hearing on December 27, at which they were remanded for another two weeks.

The journalists' lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, said the prosecutor formally indicted the pair and they now face up to 14 years in prison if convicted. The act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar, then known as Burma, was a province of British India.

The president of Reuters released a statement describing the arrest as a wholly unwarranted and blatant attack on press freedom. The men say they were arrested upon leaving the restaurant after receiving documents from the officers.

The case against the Reuters journalists has shocked Myanmar's embattled press corps.

The pair had been reporting on the military campaign in Rakhine state that has forced some 655,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee over the border to Bangladesh since August, violence the United Nations has condemned as ethnic cleansing.

The reporters were detained on December 12 after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner.

"They have done absolutely nothing but carrying out their legitimate work as journalists", said James Gomez, Amnesty International's Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

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Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said he was "extremely disappointed" by the charges and again called for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to be released immediately.

It touches both on shrinking press freedom and the Rohingya crisis, two issues that have raised questions about the country's ability to shake off the legacy of junta rule.

Local reporters have condemned the move, calling it a threat to all journalists.

"The charges against us are wrong and unfair". "Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar".

"For democracy to succeed and flourish, journalists must be able to do their jobs", the embassy said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Family members of the journalists, who were present at the court, told a news conference late past year that police may have fabricated a case for their arrest.

The media and NGOs have been barred from entering northern Rakhine where the Myanmar military stands accused of committing atrocities against the Rohingya during the crackdown which the United Nations and US say amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Rights and media groups have criticised Myanmar's civilian government for continuing to use colonial-era laws to threaten and imprison journalists.

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