Reuters journalists appear in court as Bill Clinton calls for their release


Reuters journalists appear in court as Bill Clinton calls for their release

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.

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where - according to United Nations estimates - about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from a fierce military crackdown on militants.

Photo Family members of Mr. Kyaw Soe Oo outside the court in Yangon on Wednesday.

Former President Bill Clinton also commented on the case in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying "the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable".

Kristian Schmidt, representative of the European Union in Yangon, has sent a letter to Myanmar's de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, urging the government to release the two immediately, noting the arrest "amounts to serious intimidation against journalists in general".

The ministry said they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media" and faced charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Wa Lone's first job in journalism was with the People's Age journal.

A district judge said police charged the pair under a section of the Official Secrets Act which punishes anyone who "obtains, collects, records or publishes... any official document or information" which could be "useful to an enemy".

Wa Lone joined Reuters in 2016 and made his mark with reports on sensitive subjects.

"We don't know yet where they are even though they were included on the witnesses' list", said Than Zaw Aung.

"We will take action against those policemen and also the reporters".

"We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release".

In November, a Myanmar court sentenced a Malaysian and a Singaporean journalist, along with their two local guides, to two months imprisonment for violating the country's aviation law by attempting to fly a drone in front of the parliament building in Nay Pyi Taw. "Please set them free", she said.

Previously, U.N. and USA officials, a group of 50 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and Myanmar's Committee for the Protection of Journalists called on the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally release the two journalists.

Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Thai foreign minister and the head of a new worldwide advisory panel on the Rohingya crisis, also expressed concern at the arrest of the reporters and said he hoped the case did not lead to broader restrictions on the global media.

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. Buddhist-majority Myanmar has rejected the accusation.

The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemned the criminal indictment and called on the authorities to drop the charges and release the reporters.

"All 12 of the outpatient therapeutic treatment centers run by our partners are closed because they were either looted, destroyed or staff can't access them", she said.