Trump admin. condemns Myanmar for jailing Reuters journalists

Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo waves to his daughter as he arrives at the court in Yangon Myanmar

Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo waves to his daughter as he arrives at the court in Yangon Myanmar

"We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom", said Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler.

A police officer "filed the case to charge under the state secret (Official Secrets) act, section 3.1©", a district judge told the court.

The reporters, Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were detained on December 12. They told their family members that the arrests took place nearly immediately after they were handed documents by the police.

Over 656,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children and women, have fled Bangladesh since Aug 25, when Myanmar's forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in Rakhine state, according to the UN.

Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested a month ago under the Official Secrets Act after they allegedly were given classified documents by two policemen over dinner.

The act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar, then known as Burma, was a province of British India.

The section punishes anyone who "obtains, collects, records or publishes. any official document or information" which could be "useful to an enemy".

The Ministry of Information had previously cited police as saying they were "arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces".

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The ministry said they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

Than Zaw Aung, the lawyer for the journalists, said the prosecutor formally indicted the pair at Wednesday's hearing. Their next court appearance in due on January 23.

Two police officers arrested with Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have not yet appeared in court and their whereabouts are unknown. When they went outside, seven police surrounded them and arrested them.

Journalists covering Wednesday's proceedings wore black in protest against their arrest, carrying banners proclaiming "Journalism is not a crime".

The same month as their release, prominent journalist Ko Swe Win was arrested at Yangon Airport on suspicion of violating the notorious clause 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Act, which covers online defamation, for a Facebook post deemed critical of nationalist monk U Wirathu.

Arriving shortly after 10am, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were bundled through a media scrum into the courtroom.

Wa Lone's wife gave him a few small pieces of cake that she had brought.

The arrest and ongoing detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty, Fortify Rights said.

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The defence lawyer for two Reuters journalists facing lengthy prison terms has disputed the prosecution's version of events leading up to their arrest.

Distraught relatives of Kyaw Soe Oo wailed and reached out to grasp him as the two journalists were driven away from a throng of reporters after the hearing.

The department also reiterated its call for the journalists' immediate and unconditional release.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay declined to comment on the charges but said the two had their rights under an independent judicial system.

Government officials from nations such as the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as top U.N. officials, have called for the release of the reporters.

The U.S. said it was "deeply disappointed" by Myanmar's decision to pursue charges. "We call for their immediate release", it said in a statement. Authorities have largely banned media from the conflict zone.

This week, former U.S. president Bill Clinton also weighed in on the issue. "The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately", Clinton said in a Twitter post. The case, she said, is "sensitive" for the military, because it touches on "what happened in Rakhine State", she said.

Suu Kyi won a 2015 election and formed Myanmar's first civilian government in more than half a century in early 2016, although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president. She has made no public comment on the case of the two Reuters reporters.

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