Tuesday, 25 September, 2018

What Is The Official Secrets Act? Journalists Arrested In Myanmar

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference in Naypyitaw Myanmar Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference in Naypyitaw Myanmar
Ben Pena | 12 January, 2018, 03:20

"If any person for any objective prejudicial to the safety or interest of the State obtains, collects, records or publishes or communicates to any other person any secret official code or password, or any sketch, plan, model, article or note or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy", they could be punished with time in prison, that particular section of the law states.

"Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo must be immediately and unconditionally released", James Gomez, Amnesty International's Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific said in a statement.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained after they were invited to meet police for dinner in Yangon. The 1923 law carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

Stephen Adler, Reuters' president and editor-in-chief, issued a statement calling the pair's arrest "a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom".

"We don't know yet where they are even though they were included on the witnesses' list", said Than Zaw Aung.

In November, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded the journalists' "immediate release or information as to the circumstances around their disappearance", while European Union representative to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt warned that their prosecution "amounts to a series intimidation against journalists" in Myanmar.

The two worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar, where - according to United Nations' estimates - about 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled a military crackdown to neighboring Bangladesh.

The pair had brief, emotional reunions with their family members after the hearing before they were taken back to prison.

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A district judge said police charged the pair under a section of the Official Secrets Act which punishes anyone who "obtains, collects, records or publishes... any official document or information" which could be "useful to an enemy". The reporters said they had not been mistreated in custody.

"Using outdated laws to jail reporters covering (the) Rohingya crisis is grotesque and unjust", Verhofstadt tweeted.

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 from several embassies, including the Netherlands, Australia and Britain were at the court. On Tuesday, Clinton called for the men to be "released immediately".

"He wanted to hold his baby but he couldn't because of the handcuffs", said Chit Su, the wife of Kyaw Soe Oo. "Journalists should.be able to work in a free and enabling environment without fear of intimidation or undue arrest or prosecution".

The case and those of at least 32 other journalists charged, mostly under draconian colonial-era laws, since Suu Kyi was swept into power at historic elections in 2016 on a wave of democratic euphoria, shows the army has returned to the same treachery it used to intimidate the media under decades of military rule.

Families of the journalists came to the court and called for support.

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