(Reuters) - 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:
- 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 the 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 United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, Mark Field, tweeted: “Chilling effect on media freedom hurts Burma’s democratic transition. The UK continues to call for their immediate release.”
- U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres again called for the release of the journalists and for authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and information, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.
“We will continue to raise the issue as a high priority at every possible opportunity,” Haq said.
- Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said:
“Journalists...should never be unjustly targeted, threatened, or persecuted for simply doing their jobs. We call on the Burmese government to allow these journalists to return to their families and continue their work.”
- Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’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!”
- U.S. Republican Senator John McCain said on Twitter:
“The charges against @Reuters reporters Wa Lone & Kyaw Soe Oo for exposing ethnic cleansing in #Burma are outrageous & politically motivated.”
- 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.”
- The Norwegian embassy in Yangon said the court decision will have a “serious negative impact on the rule of law and press freedom in Myanmar.”
- 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 organisation, said: “The government must act decisively to protect journalists, promote accountability for human rights violations, and end the politicisation 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.”
- The International Press Institute, a group of leading editors, media executives, and journalists said:
“Myanmar’s democratically elected government, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has chosen repression instead of the freedom that it promised. Oppressive regimes like the one in Myanmar can arrest journalists, but they will never be able to silence independent media.”
- PEN America, which awarded Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo the 2018 PEN/Berbey Freedom to Write Award, called the court decision a “grave disappointment”.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s professional reporting to expose human rights violations should be applauded, not penalised, and they should be reunited with their families. PEN America calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”
Compiled by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Alex Richardson