Two journalists are facing up to 14 years in prison in connection with their peaceful journalistic activities. Both men must be immediately and unconditionally released and the charges against them dropped.
Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged with breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act on 10 January. The colonial-era law provides up to 14 years in prison for anyone who obtains, records or communicates documents or information for any purpose “prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state”.
The journalists were investigating the brutal military crackdown in Rakhine State against the Rohingya minority, and were detained on 12 December after they were invited to meet police officers for dinner.
They were arrested almost immediately after being handed documents by the policemen, who they say they had never met before. According to the Myanmar Police Force, the pair were arrested for “possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces (with the intent) to send them to a foreign news agency”.
Following their arrest, they were held incommunicado for two weeks, with no access to lawyers, family members or to the outside world. Their next court hearing is scheduled for 23 January. They remain in detention.
Their arrest appears to be aimed at preventing them, as well as other journalists, from independently reporting on the situation in Rakhine State. The case marks a blatant attack on freedom of expression in Myanmar which will greatly undermine the ability of all journalists to conduct their peaceful work without fear of reprisal.