Rohingya Leaders Call on US to Ensure Refugees Not be Forced Back to Myanmar
13 January, 2018, 11:55
Myanmar prosecutors sought charges on Wednesday against two Reuters reporters under the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, the reporters' lawyer said.
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 fled a fierce military crackdown on militants.
The country's army chief admitted that 10 Rohingya Muslims were murdered by security forces. During yesterday's court hearing, Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists (PCMJ) wore black shirts as a protest to the prosecution of the two journalists. Documents were submitted and bail was applied.
"We will not accept terrorism and fight against them until the end", the spokesman said, adding that no one should offer any support to the group.
Their families have suggested the pair were set up, saying the arrests took place immediately after leaving the restaurant where they dined with the two policemen.
"Actually, their arrest was entrapment", Than Zaw Aung said.
The reporters have told relatives they were arrested nearly immediately after being handed some documents at a restaurant by two policemen who they had not met before. They sat down, and some documents were handed over.
Soldiers then shot them dead, the statement said.
In the court, Kyaw Soe Oo embraced his wife and held his daughter for a couple of minutes.
Only about 60,000 people remain in the town where 440,000 were living before August, she said. "We hear of high levels of toxic fear in children from both Rohingya and Rakhine communities", she said.
Myanmar plans to begin repatriating about 100,000 Rohingya refugees on January 22, though rights groups, the United Nations, and Rohingya leaders themselves have warned against a hasty return. "We are thinking about doing campaigns during every hearing they have".
The officers are also under arrest but did not appear in court on Wednesday.
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"It was planned entrapment", he said. "It is not good for press freedom, and the images of the government and the military will be damaged".
Rights and media groups have criticized Myanmar's new civilian government led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for continuing to use colonial-era laws to threaten and imprison journalists.
The two journalists stand accused of receiving documents illegally. "The government and Home Affairs Ministry should release more information to make the case more transparent".
"That law was issued without people's consent", he said.
"We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom".
The plan that Myanmar and Bangladesh have come up with does not take into account the rights of the returning Rohingya, Kyaw Soe Aung said.
Kyaw Soe Oo shouted to the court.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested December 12 after police accused them of violating the colonial-era law by acquiring "important secret papers" from two policemen. "For democracy to succeed and flourish, journalists must be able to do their jobs".
The U.S. embassy said it was "very disappointed" by the decision to pursue charges.
France's Foreign Ministry in a statement called "for the respect of their fundamental rights, their immediate release by the Burmese authorities and the free access of the media" to Rakhine state.
These insurgents have now been bolstered by wider global support to the refugees, including from the United Nations and is reported to be looking for arms support to fight the Myanmarese security forces, say reports.
Reported by Htet Arkar, Kyaw Zaw Win, Tin Aung Khine, and Thinn Thiri for RFA's Myanmar Service.
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