A Myanmar court has charged two Reuters reporters with breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. They face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who pleaded not guilty after being charged on Monday, were detained late last year. At the time of their arrest they had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
The court’s decision, in what has become a landmark press freedom case in Myanmar, drew global attention and prompted renewed calls for the reporters’ release.
Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler called the case against the reporters “baseless”.
“These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way,” he said in a statement. “They should be released and reunited with their families, friends, and colleagues.”
The following are comments from governments, human rights groups and press freedom activists from around the world:
Governments, United Nations
– The United States embassy in Yangon said it was “deeply disappointed” with the ruling.
“The Myanmar authorities should allow the journalists to return to their jobs and families. Today’s decision is a setback for press freedom and the rule of law in Myanmar.”
– A spokesman for the European Union called for charges to be dropped and for the immediate release of the reporters.
“The court decision today…threatens fundamental freedoms, a free media and the public’s right to information in Myanmar.
“The European Union expects the charges against the two journalists prosecuted for merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression and carrying out their jobs to be dropped and for them to be released immediately so they can be reunited with their families and resume their vital work.”
– The Danish embassy in Yangon said the two reporters had done a “great service in revealing atrocities carried out by security forces and Rakhine locals in Inn Din in Rakhine state”.
“We call on the Government of Myanmar to stop this disgraceful process and release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo now.”
– Yanghee Lee, the UN’s human rights envoy on Myanmar, said on Twitter: “Absolutely unbelievable that this happening now in #Myanmar! These 2 Reuters journalists must be released immediately (with) charges dropped!”
– Amnesty International said: “This is a black day for press freedom in Myanmar. The court’s decision to proceed with this farcical, politically motivated case has deeply troubling and far-reaching implications for independent journalism in the country.”
– Human Rights Watch said: “Today’s action is a clear indication of the significant backsliding on human rights we’ve seen in Myanmar since the 2015 election.”
– Article 19, a UK-based rights organization, said: “The government must act decisively to protect journalists, promote accountability for human rights violations, and end the politicization of Myanmar’s criminal justice system.”
– Free Expression Myanmar, a Yangon-based NGO, said: “Prosecuting – and persecuting – two investigative journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for doing their job is a national shame intended only to stop any information coming out about what is really happening inside Myanmar’s many conflict areas.”
– The International Commission of Jurists, a group of senior international judges, lawyers and legal academics, said: “The case significantly undermines the government’s stated commitments to reforming and building public confidence in judicial process…Authorities should immediately end criminal proceedings against these men who appear to have been lawfully doing their job as investigative journalists.”