What Is The Official Secrets Act? Journalists Arrested In Myanmar

What Is The Official Secrets Act? Journalists Arrested 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.

Police arrested Thet Oo Maung, also known as Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, on December 12 for violating the law by allegedly illegally possessing classified documents about security forces in northern Rakhine state, where a military crackdown has driven about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were held incommunicado by the police for two weeks before appearing in court on December 27, when they were remanded for another two weeks.

"A free press is critical to a free society - the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable", Clinton tweeted.

"We were arrested on a trumped up charge so as to prevent [journalists] from reporting true news", said Ko Wa Lone, one of two detained Reuters reporters, during his appearance at the Yangon North District Court on Wednesday.

An added element of uncertainty as the trial moves forward is the status and location of two police officers whom the government says are also being charged under the Official Secrets Act, but who are listed as witnesses for the prosecution as well.

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. The reporters were arrested nearly immediately after police handed them documents they said the reporters could review at their homes.

Reporters covering Wednesday's proceedings dressed in black in protest against the arrest of the Reuters' journalists.

Former US President Bill Clinton also urged that they be freed immediately.

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Police said they were arrested for possessing "important and secret" documents related to the situation in the country's western Rakhine state, according to reports. Her spokesman has said the case would be handled according to the law.

"We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom".

Much of the Buddhist-majority population supports the army in what it calls a legitimate campaign against Rohingya militants after attacks against border guard police killed about a dozen.

Government officials from some of the world's major nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as top U.N. officials, have called for the release of the journalists.

The media and NGOs have been barred from entering northern Rakhine where the Myanmar military stands accused of committing atrocities against the Rohingya during the crackdown which the United Nations and USA say amounts to ethnic cleansing.

"We therefore call on your government to provide the necessary legal protection for these two journalists, to ensure the full respect of their fundamental rights and to release them immediately", he said.

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

Japan wants to raise the matter of the two reporters with the Myanmar government at appropriate opportunities, including a visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono this week, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo.

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