It’s been 100 days since the arrest of two Reuters reporters in Burma (Myanmar). Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo appeared in court on Wednesday, accused of possessing secret government papers.
The preliminary hearings are to decide if the pair will face charges under the colonial-era Officials Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. Wednesday’s hearing marked the 11th time they have appeared in court.
“They have been detained in Myanmar since December 12 simply for doing their jobs as journalists,” Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J Adler said in a statement.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are exemplary individuals and outstanding reporters who are dedicated to their families and their craft. They should be in the newsroom, not in prison,” he said.
Reuters maintain the journalists were arrested over an investigative report that uncovered the mass killing of Rohingya by the military in Rakhine State.
The Reuters report detailed how Burmese troops and Buddhist villagers executed 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine’s Inn Dinn village on Sept 2, 2017 before dumping their bodies into a mass grave.
Despite repeatedly denying the presence of mass graves in the state, Burma’s army eventually issued a rare statement admitting that security forces took part in the extrajudicial killings of the 10 men, labelling them “terrorists.”
Both Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested almost immediately after being handed some rolled up papers after being invited to a restaurant by two officers they had not met before.
The government has been under mounting pressure to free the two journalists. In January, a group of 50 Pulitzer Prize winners called the arrests “an outrageous attack on media freedom” and demanded the immediate release of the two journalists. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Myanmar said it was “appalled” by the arrests and “gravely concerned” about press freedom in the country.
Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, until recently seen as a beacon for freedom, was awarded the dubious honour of being awarded “winner” in the category of Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom by CPJ. Other winners included autocrats like Xi Jinping of China, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.
On Wednesday, diplomats from countries including the United States, Canada, Sweden and the European Union were attending the court hearing.
The Danish embassy, which has closely monitored the case, said the pair had spent “100 days behind bars for ensuring the public’s right to information.”
Adler made a plea to the government to “release them as soon as possible and allow them to return to their families and their jobs.”
Additional reporting by Reuters