Bill Clinton Joins Calls for Release of Reuters Journalists in Myanmar

An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Shah Porir Dwip Bangladesh September 11. REUTERS  Danish Siddiqui

EXPLAINER-Two Reuters journalists due to make second Myanmar court appearance

Section 3 covers entering prohibited places, taking images or handling secret official documents that "might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy".

James Gomez, Amnesty International's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said Tuesday the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are "clearly an attempt by the authorities to silence investigations into military violations and crimes against Rohingya in Rakhine State, and to scare other journalists away from doing the same".

The journalists' lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, said the prosecutor formally indicted the pair and they now face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

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

"We are outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom".

Police said they were arrested for possessing "important and secret" documents related to the situation in the country's western Rakhine state, according to reports. Local journalists who gathered outside the court showed solidarity by wearing black to protest the arrest of the two men.

The two 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. The journalists are being held in the notoriously harsh Inseinâś“ prison in Yangon. The pair were arrested December 12 after they were allegedly given classified documents by two policemen over dinner.

"We were arrested on a trumped up charge so as to prevent [journalists] from reporting true news", said Ko Wa Lone, one of two detained Reuters reporters, during his appearance at the Yangon North District Court on Wednesday. But the families of the reporters claim they were arrested before even reading the records they were handed.

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Under the current government, at least 32 journalists have been charged, mostly under colonial-era laws, according to the local group We Support Journalists, the Associated Press reported.

The two have been covering the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.

Also on Monday, a dozen reporters based in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw submitted a request to the Myanmar's Home Affairs Ministry for more information about the case, arguing that it could have implications for the ability of journalists to do their jobs, Reuters reported.

Observers from the United Nations and several embassies, including those of the Netherlands, Australia and Britain, were also present at the court as police cordoned off the area. "We call for their immediate release".

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

A slew of legal cases against journalists have compounded disappointment among those hoping the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi would usher in a new era of freedom.

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. The government has denied that their arrests represent an attack on press freedom.

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