Burma: UN, Britain call for immediate release of Reuters journalists
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Burma: UN, Britain call for immediate release of Reuters journalists

UN EXPERTS on Thursday called for the immediate release of two Reuters reporters in Burma (Myanmar), saying their imprisonment gives rise to “grave concern for investigative journalism” in the country.

“We urge the prosecution to drop the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and we urge the Government to release both journalists immediately,” special rapporteurs Yanghee Lee and David Kaye said in a statement.

United Kingdom’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson also reiterated his previous calls for the two to be released. On Twitter, he said Burma must “show their commitment to media freedom.”

On Wednesday, a Yangon court rejected an appeal to have the case against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo dropped. The pair have been in jail since in December while the court hears preliminary hearings to decide if they will be charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act for possessing secret government papers.

At the time of their arrest, the journalists had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya villagers by Burma’s military.

SEE ALSO: Burma: Reuters journalists to stay in jail

On Tuesday, the Burmese soldiers responsible for the massacre were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour.

The UN experts pointed out the “absurdity” of the perpetrators of the massacre, and the subjects of the reporters’ investigation, being sentenced to 10 years imprisonment when Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were facing a possible 14 years in jail if found guilty.

“The absurdity of this trial and the wrongfulness of their detention and prosecution are clear,” the experts said.

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Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo depicted in a photo released by Burmese authorities. Source: Myanmar Ministry of Information Facebook page

The court in Yangon said Wednesday there was no link between the case of the soldiers and that brought against the two journalists. Judge Ye Lwin said that there was “a proper reason” for the accusations against the two reporters and therefore “they should not be released.”

As well as calling for their release, the experts also urged the government to protect press freedom, especially in light of alleged human rights abuses in Rakhine State.

“We also urge the Government to ensure that investigative journalism, especially journalism relating to human rights violations and the situation in Rakhine State, is duly protected in Myanmar.”