It was the second time in ten days that a judge refused to release the two journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on bail. They are now facing the possibility of spending many more months in prison before they get a chance to defend their innocence in court.
Arrested on 12 December, they were formally charged on 10 January with violating the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law dating back to 1923, under which they are facing a possible 14-year jail sentence. The law is nowadays only used when the military want to make it clear that they do not want to be the subject of investigative reporting. It was last used against four journalists in 2014.
“These two journalists are paying for their professionalism,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Their only crime was to take an interest in the atrocities by Myanmar’s security forces against the country’s Rohingya minority, which resulted in an exodus of around 700,000 refugees.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s government must immediately end this travesty of justice, involving entrapment by the police, trumped-up evidence and a complete lack of transparency. The refusal to grant bail clearly shows that the judicial system is being used to punish these two reporters and to intimidate their media colleagues.”
The court that considered the release request should have granted it on the grounds that their arrest was illegal. They two journalists are accused of being in possession of classified documents at the time of their arrest as they left a Yangon restaurant. But, as they have repeatedly pointed out, they had only just been given the documents in the restaurant by two mysterious policemen and had not had time to study them.
The UN special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee of South Korea, voiced support for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo today, calling them “brave” and “fearless” in their attempts to cover one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
She said the operations by Myanmar’s armed forces against the Rohingya community in Rakhine State bore “the hallmarks of a genocide” and added, “this is why we’ve called for access for international media.”
When US diplomat Bill Richardson resigned last week from an international panel advising Suu Kyi’s government, he said she had become “furious” when he called for the release of the two Reuters journalists.
Since last September, RSF has been urging Suu Kyi to lift the many restrictions on journalists in Myanmar, especially on those who would like to cover the military operations in Rakhine State.
Myanmar is ranked 131st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.