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Reuters lawyer disputes prosecution case as state secrets charges announced

13 January 2018

As the trial of two Myanmar journalists begins in Yangon, the case has now passed from the sphere of Myanmar's military, which retains full control of the police, to the sphere of the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

"State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the United States is "deeply disappointed" by the charges". "We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release", said Stephen J. Adler, president and editor-in-chief, at Reuters.

"Please tell the people to protect our journalists", Kyaw Soe Oo shouted to the court. He told VOA that the government could be using "political prisoners", including jailed journalists, as "bargaining chips" to deter renewed sanctions from Western powers over the Rohingya crisis.

- "Imprisonment of Reuters reporters for investigating Rohingya atrocities is a miscarriage of justice".

Criminal cases in Myanmar are prosecuted under the attorney general, who is appointed by the president, Htin Kyaw. "Press freedom is essential for democracy", U.S. Senator Edward Markey said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reiterated its call for the immediate release of two Burmese reporters working for the Reuters news agency.

"The secretary-general has repeated and will continue to repeat his concern at the erosion of press freedom in Myanmar and calling on the worldwide community to do everything to secure the journalists' release and freedom of the press", said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

France reaffirms its unwavering commitment to the freedom of the press and freedom of expression worldwide.

"Journalists and media outlets, in particular those who report on sensitive topics, are living with the constant fear of harassment, intimidation or arrest". The independent Myanmar Press Council only offered to "mediate" and did not join calls for their release.

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"There is deep concern and it is very worrying to see that press freedom in Myanmar is really declining", he said from the French capital, Paris.

The Japanese foreign minister also held separate talks with Myanmar Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and will visit northern Rakhine State.

- Advocacy group Fortify Rights said the reporters were arrested for doing their jobs and should be released immediately.

Reporting on the Rohingya crisis has proven hard for members of the foreign press, who are prohibited from entering the conflict-torn areas of northern Rakhine and rarely granted interviews with top government officials.

The country's ministry of information said the journalists were arrested "for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine state and security forces", claiming they "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

- Amnesty International demanded the immediate release of the two journalists, saying they had been arbitrarily detained. James Gomez, Amnesty's Southeast Asia director, called for the pair to be "immediately and unconditionally released".

Global leaders, including former USA president Bill Clinton, and government officials from some of the world's major nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as United Nations officials, have called for their release.

Authorities have blocked access to media seeking to cover the military crackdown in the north of Rakhine State.

"They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth", Wa Lone told reporters as he and Kyaw Soe Oo were led out of the court and back to Yangon's Insein prison after the 30-minute hearing.

Reuters lawyer disputes prosecution case as state secrets charges announced