Prosecutors in Myanmar are seeking charges against two reporters from Reuters, for violating the Open Secrets Act. If convicted, the two could spend 14 years in prison.
On December 12, authorities arrested the two Reuters reporters — Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone — after they met two police officers for dinner and were given a set of documents. The reporters had been covering the situation in the country’s Rakhine state, where it is said that more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have left in the wake of military action against militant factions.
The charges the prosecutors are seeking relate to a section of the Open Secrets Act, which is a nearly 100-year-old law that was established when the country was a part of British India and known as Burma. The section of the law that the two have allegedly violated pertains to acquiring secret documents that could be useful to an enemy. Authorities also arrested the two police officers the reporters met, on the suspicion of violating the same law.
Lone says that he and Oo are innocent, and that the authorities only arrested them because they are trying to expose the truth about what is going on in Rakhine. He said this after a 30-minute court hearing as the men were returning to prison.
Prosecutors have also requested that the court deny bail to the two men, and the court will decide on this at the next hearing, which is scheduled for January 23.
In protest of the arrest, more than two dozen journalists stood outside the court house during the hearing. Dressed in black, the reporters wore T-shirts in support of a free press and ones that demanded the release of the two men.
Stephen J. Adler, who is the editor-in-chief and president of Reuters, expressed dismay that the government was seeking to prosecute his employees. He also demanded the release of the two men, and he said that their prosecution was nothing more than an attack on the freedom of the press.
Officials from the United Nations, as well as from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have also requested the release of the men.
Zaw Htay, who is a spokesperson for the Myanmar government, refused to comment on the specifics of the charges, but he insisted that the two would receive a fair trial. The Myanmar military has yet to comment on the case.