U.S. Calls on Myanmar to Release Reuters Journalists

  • Two reporters charged with breaching Official Secrets Act
  • U.S. says media freedom critical to maintaining ‘rule of law’

The U.S. reiterated its call on Monday for the unconditional release of two Reuters journalists charged with breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act during their reporting on the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Myanmar prosecutors on Wednesday formally charged the two journalists, signaling the case will go forward despite international condemnation, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Wa Lone

Photographer: Ye Aung Thu/AFP via Getty Images

“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,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement Wednesday. “The media freedom that is so critical to rule of law and a strong democracy requires that journalists be able to do their jobs.”

The two reporters were arrested Dec. 12 after police accused them of violating the 1923 law by acquiring “important secret papers” from two policemen, the AP reported. The police officers had worked in Rakhine state, where security forces are blamed for rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims that sparked the exodus of some 650,000 people to Bangladesh, the report said.

Kyaw Soe Oo

Photographer: Ye Aung Thu/AFP via Getty Images

‘Ethnic Cleansing’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in November described the situation in Northern Rakhine state as “ethnic cleansing.” Pope Francis has urged ethnic reconciliation in the country, which doesn’t include the Rohingya among its 135 officially recognized ethnic groups.

The most recent crisis was sparked in August when militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked 25 police and army posts, killing a dozen security officials in Rakhine state. The military responded with what it called “clearance operations.” Multiple reports have since accused security forces and Buddhist vigilantes of indiscriminately attacking Muslims in the state and burning their villages.

Rights and media groups have criticized Myanmar’s government, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for using colonial-era laws to threaten and imprison journalists. Such laws were widely used by the military junta that previously ruled the country to muzzle critics and the media.

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