Health Care

Reuters journalists charged with violating Myanmar law

Reuters journalists charged with violating Myanmar law

Two Reuters journalists were formally charged by police in a Myanmar court Wednesday with breaching a colonial-era secrecy law that carries up to 14 years in jail, provoking a barrage of calls for their immediate release.

Wa Lone, 31 years old, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had reported extensively on the conflict in Rakhine state, from where more than 650,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims have fled what United Nations officials have called a coordinated campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were questioned at the Aung Tha Pyay police interrogation center in Yangon Region's Mayangone Township for 15 days before appearing at the Mingalardon Township Court for the first time on December 27.

"The media freedom that is so critical to rule of law and a strong democracy requires that journalists be able to do their jobs".

Clinton was USA president for much of the 1990s when the United States pressed Myanmar's then military rulers to release democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi from years of house arrest.

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

UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado (seen below), told journalists in Geneva that prior to August 25, UNICEF had been treating 4,800 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and that these children were no longer receiving the life-saving treatment.

Myanmar journalists say despite the army's promise in 2011 to allow liberal reforms and press freedom as the country opened to the world, a pervasive network of undercover intelligence agents and their informants has not been dismantled under Suu Kyi's government.

The reporters were detained on December 12 after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner.

Former US president Bill Clinton also weighed in on the issue.

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

Wednesday's hearing was their second court appearance since being arrested nearly one month ago. Her spokesman has said the case would be handled according to the law.

"What with the lack of transparency, the failure to respect proper legal procedure and the fabrication of evidence, everything suggests that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are being used by the authorities as scapegoats in order to deter overly curious reporters", he said.

Previously, U.N. and US 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.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said they show how press freedom is deteriorating in Myanmar and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for their release.

The United States and the European Union both called for the men's release on Wednesday.

The government has blocked the coverage of the military crackdown in Rakhine.

Local reporters have condemned the move, calling it a threat to all journalists. Buddhist-majority Myanmar has rejected the accusation.

"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.