Washington for “immediate and unconditional” release of Reuters journalists

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International desk: The United States has expressed “disappointment” over yesterday’s court decision in Myanmar to allow prosecution of Reuter’s journalists — Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo — under the Official Secrets Act and called for their “immediate and unconditional” release.

“The United States is deeply disappointed by today’s court decision in Burma to allow prosecution of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under the Official Secrets Act,” according to a US State Department statement received here this morning.

It added, “The media freedom that is so critical to rule of law and a strong democracy requires that journalists be able to do their jobs”.

“We reiterate our call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s immediate and unconditional release,” it said.

The state department voiced its concern after two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar have been formally charged with “violating” the country’s Official Secrets Act.

Prosecutors brought the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo during a brief court appearance Wednesday in Yangon.

The pair was arrested on December 12 after they were allegedly given classified documents by two policemen over dinner.

The reporters’ lawyer says the judge refused his request to have his clients released on bail, but promised to make a decision at the next
hearing, scheduled for January 23, media reports said.

Outside the courtroom, dozens of journalists dressed in black rallied in support of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, some carrying signs proclaiming “Journalism is not a crime.”

Both men face up to 14 years in prison if convicted under the Official Secrets Act, which dates back nearly a century ago, when Myanmar was under British colonial rule.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo covered the unrest in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state, where some 655,000 Rohingyas have been forced to flee into Bangladesh to escape a scorched earth campaign against them by military forces.

Myanmar has been accused of blocking journalists from traveling independently to Rakhine to look first-hand at the crackdown, and to verify refugees’ claims of murder, mass rape and burning of villages by security forces. bss

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