On the 100th day since the arrest of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the National Press Club of Australia joins its counterparts in clubs throughout Asia calling for their immediate release.
The two journalists were engaged in normal reporting activities, and had not committed any wrongdoing. All charges against them should be dropped.
Their lawyers have raised concerns that their health has deteriorated at Insein prison in Yangon. The relevant authorities should ensure that this issue is properly addressed given the notoriously bad conditions in Myanmar’s outdated penal system.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested while reporting on the killing of 10 Muslim men buried in a mass grave in Rakhine state. They have been prosecuted under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, and have appeared in court 10 times since they were arrested on Dec. 12. They are charged with possessing secret government papers, and are being held alongside criminals convicted of serious crimes.
The two reporters had been invited by police officers to a meeting at which they were handed the documents. They have told family members they were arrested almost immediately afterwards, and before they had a chance to review their contents.
Their lawyers say numerous inconsistencies over the facts of the arrest and evidence of breaches in police procedure have been revealed in the testimony of prosecution witnesses. One police officer told the court that information in the documents they are accused of possessing had already been published in local media.
A verdict is possible in the coming weeks, and the outcome will have repercussions for Myanmar and the entire region, where press freedom is increasingly under attack.
The professional membership of the FCCT joins calls on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian government to act to defend press freedom. It is in the interests of all that Myanmar respects the beneficial role of a free and independent media, and ensures that journalists are able to work without threat of retaliation.
“We are not doing anything wrong,” Kyaw Soe Oo told reporters after the pair were formally charged. “Please help us by uncovering the truth.”
Those wishing to support press freedom and the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe can sign an online petition at http://goo.gl/1kPTwX
Foreign Correspondents Association Singapore
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China
SOPA Editorial Committee
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia, New Delhi
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Thailand
National Press Club of Australia