Bill Clinton Joins Calls for Release of Reuters Journalists in Myanmar


Two Reuters journalists were due in a Myanmar court on Wednesday where they could be charged under a secrecy law that carries up to 14 years in jail, as calls escalate for their release.

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were first arrested and detained on December 12 after meeting with police officials for dinner in Yangon, the country's commercial capital, according to Reuters. Kyaw Soe Oo shouted to the court.

Both men face up to 14 years in prison if convicted under the Official Secrets Act, which dates back almost a century ago, when Myanmar was under British colonial rule.

Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said the "arrests and continued incarceration represent an egregious attack on press freedom - preventing them, and deterring other journalists, from reporting independently in Myanmar".

Human Rights Watch's Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson said the charges were a "travesty of justice" and called on Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's state counselor and de facto head of state, to "quickly reform this antiquated colonial law".

"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.

UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado (seen below), told journalists in Geneva that prior to August 25, UNICEF had been treating 4,800 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and that these children were no longer receiving the life-saving treatment. But 25 witnesses, including the two police officers who reportedly gave the reporters the documents, were presented to the court.

On Wednesday, France urged the immediate release of the pair, saying: "Journalists must be able to exercise their profession freely, without fear of being intimidated or arrested".

The Home Affairs Ministry has said it would take action against the two police officers -Captain Moe Yan Naing and Lance Corporal Khin Maung Linn - but has not yet made public whether it actually has.

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The most well-documented recent case was in 2014, when the Unity Journal weekly published an article it said exposed a secret military chemical weapons factory.

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

Kyaw Soe Oo is an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist who grew up in the state capital, Sittwe.

"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", said government spokesman Zaw Htay.

Top officials from the United Nations and several countries, including Britain and Canada, have called for the release of the pair.

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

The military has severely restricted access to northern Rakhine state to journalists, aid groups and observers.

Both reporters were arrested December 12.

The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations but are denied citizenship, and branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.