Myanmar Prosecution of Journalists Spurs International Pressure

The government is expecting growth to remain steady at 6.8pc in 2017-18 backed by favourable weather conditions. Phoe Wa  The Myanmar Times

- Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in an email to Reuters on Wednesday that Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government should use its parliamentary majority to reform the "antiquated" colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Arriving shortly after 10am, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were bundled through a media scrum into the courtroom. The police later announced that they were "arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces".

Defence lawyer U Than Zaw Aung told Frontier after the hearing that the prosecution claims the plaintiff, Police Lieutenant-Colonel Yu Naing, came across the journalists while on patrol and the documents were found when they were searched. The Ministry of Information says they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

Journalists covering Wednesday's proceedings wore black in protest against their arrest, carrying banners proclaiming "Journalism is not a crime".

"Widespread racist attitudes towards the Rohingya people restrict free and independent coverage of the humanitarian crisis in (Rakhine) state", it said. "I never made any mistake; I never did anything wrong", Wa Lone said before leaving the court.

Two police officers arrested with Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have not yet appeared in court and their whereabouts are unknown.

Shortly after the hearing, Reuters president Mr Stephen J. Adler said the charges were "wholly unwarranted" and a "blatant attack on press freedom". Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar.

"What with the lack of transparency, the failure to respect proper legal procedure and the fabrication of evidence, everything suggests that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are being used by the authorities as scapegoats in order to deter overly curious reporters".

A spokesman for the military was not available for comment.

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Observers from the United Nations and from several embassies, including the Netherlands, Australia and Britain were at the court.

- The United States said it was "deeply disappointed" by Myanmar's decision to pursue charges under the Official Secrets Act against the two reporters.

"For democracy to succeed and flourish, journalists must be able to do their jobs".

After they were detained, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the arrests showed how press freedom was deteriorating in Myanmar, while U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for their immediate release. "We call for their immediate release", it said in a statement. Authorities have largely banned media from the conflict zone.

"The secretary-general has repeated and will continue to repeat his concern at the erosion of press freedom in Myanmar and calling on the global community to do everything to secure the journalists' release and freedom of the press", said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

"A free press is critical to a free society-the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable", he tweeted on Monday. "We are thankful to Japan for its willingness to support the needs both for short term and long term", Suu Kyi told the joint news conference.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono pledged continued support for Myanmar's democratization and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's government.

During a meeting on Friday, Kono asked Suu Kyi's government to allow humanitarian and media access to the affected area, the resettlement of returned refugees, and the implementation of recommendations made by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan. The government has denied that their arrests represent an attack on press freedom.


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