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Myanmar journalists mark six months in jail

June 12, 2018

Two Reuters journalists marked six months in custody Tuesday for allegedly breaching a secrecy law while investigating atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, as calls grow for the “spurious” case to be dropped.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, could face up to 14 years in prison under the Official Secrets Act for possessing material linked to security operations in crisis-hit Rakhine state.

The case has dragged on for months of preliminary hearings and is widely seen as punishment for reporting on the military’s violent crackdown against the Rohingya minority.

Most of the listed witnesses have testified, after which the court is expected to rule on whether the case will go to trial.

The pair say police in December lured them to dinner at a Yangon restaurant and handed over documents. They were arrested shortly afterwards.

Their description of events is backed up by a whistleblowing cop who testified that officers were ordered to entrap the journalists.

The case has received global attention, with prominent human rights attorney Amal Clooney signing on to the legal team.

Kristian Schmidt, the European Union’s ambassador to Myanmar, echoed international condemnation on Tuesday.

“6 months in jail for reporting the truth,” he tweeted from his official account. “Today, I reiterate the EU’s appeal for their immediate release.”

Sean Bain, a legal adviser to the International Commission of Jurists, told AFP that prosecutors have the duty and authority to drop “spurious” charges.

“Doing so doesn’t compromise judicial independence,” he said.

Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi insisted in a rare interview last week with Japan’s NHK that the case was being carried out “in accordance with due process”.

The reporters had been investigating the September massacre of 10 Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din in the north of Rakhine state.

A military campaign launched last August forced some 700,000 Rohingya over the border to Bangladesh, in violence which the UN and US have described as “ethnic cleansing”.

The military says its campaign was justified to root out Rohingya militants and denies nearly all allegations of atrocities.

It did concede that security force members had taken part in the Inn Din killings and a court convicted seven of them.

The defence team argues that the supposedly secret documents were already in the public domain.

“We reported about Rakhine state, we worked hard on it and that’s why we are in this condition now,” Wa Lone said outside court on Tuesday.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.