Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been charged with violating the Official Secrets Act shortly after reporting the escape of about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims from militant persecutors in the Rakhine State. According to Reuters, the journalists were detained on Dec. 12, 2017, after being invited to dinner by local police officers. The two journalists are currently being held at Yangon’s Insein prison until their next court appearance on Jan. 23, 2018.
“They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth,” Wa Lone told Reuters after his and Kyaw Soe Oo’s first hearing.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) January 10, 2018
According to The New York Times, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh over a span of almost five months. During that time, there have been multiple accounts of rape and murder in refugee camps by “Myanmar military and Buddhist vigilantes.” The New York Times also reports that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been specifically investigating a mass grave in the village of Inn Din.
On January 10th, the day of the hearing, the Myanmar military admitted that 10 “Muslim terrorist” bodies were found in a mass grave. They had been killed by villagers and security forces.
“We are not doing anything wrong,” Kyaw Soe Oo told journalists after the hearing. “Please help us by uncovering the truth.”
A free press is critical to a free society—the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable. The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately.
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) January 9, 2018
According to Al Jazeera, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information stated that the Reuters reporters had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media.” The New York Times reported that multiple human rights groups are convinced that the Myanmar police set up the two Reuters journalists by giving them documents that were later deemed state secrets.
While it is unconfirmed if the documents contained any confidential information; Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, claimed that her husband wasn’t even able to look at the documents before he was arrested. The sentence for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act a maximum of 14 years in prison.
The Burmese gov't should immediately release detained @Reuters journalists. It's because of their reporting & the reporting of journalists like them we know the extent of violence against the Rohingya. The US must stand for freedom of the press everywhere. https://t.co/Y1GRsOQLBH
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) January 11, 2018
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are not the first or last journalists to be arrested while investigating what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein calls “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 11 journalists and one media collaborator have been arrested in Myanmar in 2017 with the use of the Official Secrets Act, which RSF describes as a “1923 law that is rarely used except to make the media understand that the military do not want to be the subject of investigative reporting.”
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) January 10, 2018
Daniel Bastard, Asia Pacific region head for RSF told Al Jazeera that, “There is deep concern and it is very worrying to see that press freedom in Myanmar is really declining” and that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were “just being used as scapegoats to shut down the mouths of courageous journalists.”
Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler expressed his disappointment by saying, “We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom.”
He went on to say, “Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar. We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s prompt release.”
The United States Department of State also made a statement calling for the journalists’ immediate release and declaring that “the media freedom that is so critical to rule of law and a strong democracy requires that journalists be able to do their jobs.”
BREAKING: U.S. is 'deeply disappointed' by court decision in Myanmar to allow prosecution of two @Reuters journalists under the Official Secrets Act – State Department. https://t.co/GEjjtrCYtp pic.twitter.com/28T29h37l6
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 10, 2018
As outrage and attention flooded the Rohingya crisis, global media and world leaders also made a point to denounce the unjustified arrests of the journalists trying to tell the story of intolerable actions taking place in Myanmar.