Bangkok: It was a trap reminiscent of the darkest days of the Myanmar army’s half-century of repressive rule.
On December 12 as world outrage was growing over a pogrom against Rohingya Muslims two young and ambitious Reuters reporters received an invitation journalists dream about.
They were invited for dinner on the outskirts of Yangon with a pair of police officers who had worked in townships in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state where Rohingya survivors had pointed to a mass grave as evidence of army-led atrocities.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were handed rolled-up documents and told they could view them once they got home, according to sources familiar with the case.
But as they walked along a road shortly after they were confronted by a group of about eight police, handcuffed and then held incommunicado for two weeks, accused of acquiring “important secret papers.”
A few days after the arrests Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw, a close ally and confidant of the country’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, authorised police to proceed with charges against them under the country’s Official Secrets Act.
The law dating back to the days of British colonial rule carries a prison sentence of 14 years.
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.
“Such arrests and laws were widely used by the military junta to shut us down,” said Maung Saungkha, founder of a local group called We Support Journalists.
“But it’s sad to see media freedom is even worse under the so-called democratic government.”
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act when they appeared in court on Wednesday. Their case has sparked international outrage.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said they show how press freedom is deteriorating in Myanmar and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for their release.
On Tuesday, former US President Bill Clinton joined the calls, tweeting that the arrests are unacceptable and saying the journalists should be released immediately. A free press is critical to a free society???the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable. The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately.??? Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) January 9, 2018This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.