Published: Sun, January 14, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

European Union concerned over detention of journalists in Myanmar

European Union concerned over detention of journalists in Myanmar

Prosecutors charged the journalists with possession of important secret government documents pursuant to Section 3.1 (c) [text, PDF] of the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been held since 12 December 2017, when they were arrested immediately after being handed documents by two "mysterious policemen" they met in a Yangon restaurant.

Some Rohingya have accused security forces of committing atrocities against them during the crackdown, which was triggered by deadly attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police outposts. "Lawyers from both sides will argue on the bail issue at the next hearing".

Than Zaw Aung said the prosecution had not submitted the documents that were allegedly found on the pair. "Police called them to meet, gave them some documents, and they were arrested as soon as the police left".

"I can only talk about [the classified documents] when they are in my hand", he added. Than Zaw Aung said the officers have been included on the witness list for the prosecution.

Amnesty International said the men had "done absolutely nothing wrong".

Thet Oo Maung's wife, Pan Ei, said they could only smile at each another in court. The case, she said, is "sensitive" for the military, because it touches on "what happened in Rakhine State", she said. "We are still far from the verdict", he said. "We need to work for justice".

Daniel Bastard, Asia Pacific region head for Reporters Without Borders, said the pair were "just being used as scapegoats to shut down the mouths of courageous journalists".

Later Wednesday, the military released results of its investigation into the mass grave the journalists were probing.

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Asked about the NLD government's apparent refusal to support journalists, he said, "maybe they don't understand press freedom". "Whether it's being detained by authorities or being joked about in a casual way, we feel we're under attack". "We will also do sticker campaigns every two weeks in public, telling people that their arrest constitutes entrapment". It accused the new civilian government of failing the media sector.

"It was planned entrapment", he said. "The authorities continue to exert pressure on the media and even intervene directly to get editorial policies changed". On Monday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists declared Aung San Suu Kyi the "Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom" in its Press Oppressors Awards.

Zin Mar Aung, an NLD parliamentarian who spent 11 years as a political prisoner, told VOA it would be hard, in practice, for the civilian government to halt the proceedings against the journalists. The government has said the reporters "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media". "The government and Home Affairs Ministry should release more information to make the case more transparent".

"We are in a situation where we must conduct self-censorship instead of having more freedom in press", he said.

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. "Please investigate and report the true stories; while doing that, take care of your security", he said. In one of its firmest statements yet, the 28-nation bloc, which is a significant donor to Myanmar, said that the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo was an important test for the country's commitment to developing democracy after years of military rule.

The U.S. embassy said it was "very disappointed" by the decision to pursue charges. "For democracy to succeed and flourish, journalists must be able to do their jobs".

Significantly, Clinton was U.S. president for much of the 1990s when the American administration pressed Myanmar's then military regime to release democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi from years of house arrest. "A free press that can work without intimidation and fear of undue arrest and prosecution is a fundamental element of any democratic society", the European Union delegation in Myanmar said.

Reported by Htet Arkar, Kyaw Zaw Win, Tin Aung Khine, and Thinn Thiri for RFA's Myanmar Service.

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