BANGKOK – A judge in Myanmar denied bail on Thursday to two reporters, who were detained for allegedly violating the archaic Official Secrets Act, dating back to the British colonial era that carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from Reuters news agency were detained in Yangon on Dec. 12 after meeting with two policemen who reportedly handed over to them confidential documents on the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine region.
The reporters were investigating the role of the Myanmar army in the repression of this Muslim community in Rakhine State, in the western part of the country.
“We are disappointed that the court denied bail for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. It has now been more than fifty days since they were arrested, and they should have the opportunity to be with their families as the hearings continue,” Reuters President Stephen J. Adler said in a statement.
“We believe the court proceedings will demonstrate their innocence and Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will be able to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar. We continue to call for their prompt release,” he added.
The Official Secrets Act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar was a province in the British colony of India.
The United States, the European Union and organizations such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have called for the immediate release of the two reporters.
UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said she was “deeply perplexed and concerned” over the incident.
“To say that their prosecution is under ‘the rule of law’ is no excuse for spurious charges; they should be released immediately and the charges against them must be dropped,” said Lee, who has been denied access to Myanmar by the country’s authorities.
More than 650,000 Rohingyas, a Muslim minority community, have fled Rakhine since the Myanmar military launched an offensive in late August, following a series of attacks on government posts by Rohingya rebels in the region.