In December 2017, two Reuters journalists were arrested in Myanmar/Burma, by the names of Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo. They had been reporting on the violence in Rakhine State in regards to the violence against the Rohingya. The story they were specifically working on was of a mass grave where 10 Rohingya men (ages 17-45) were summarily executed after being selected at random from the village of Inn Din. Read more about this report here.
During their investigative work, the two were invited to the home of a police official where they were arrested under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The Ministry of Information alleged that they, “illegally acquired information with the intent to share it with foreign media.” At the time, there were many unconfirmed reports that they had been handed incriminating documents at the official’s house, and then immediately arrested right after.
This secrets act could have severe consequences — both of them recently plead not guilty and could face up to 14 years in prison each.
They have been charged under section 3  [c] of the law, which goes as follows:
3. (1) If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State —
(c) obtains, collects, records or publishes or communicates to any other person any secret
official code or password, or any sketch, plan, model, article or note or other document or
information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or
indirectly, useful to an enemy.”
What exactly can be considered indirectly useful to the enemy, is under question. Also what exactly constitutes an enemy in the first place is somewhat vague terminology that could be used in a manner of different interpretations. Both the Reuters journalists have said that they plead not guilty since they were simply journalists, and were not intent on damaging government interests, just telling the truth.
According to their defense lawyer, U Khin Maung Zaw, the judge said that, “Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were caught with state information on that day and which stated that they collected and noted down secret government information, either to share with the enemy or to use against the interests of the government by possessing or distributing them.” U Khin Maung Zaw was not satisfied with this decision.
This case is not only a significant case for the two journalists in pretrial detention — it’s a case that will serve as a landmark for freedom of the press in Myanmar history. What happens at the upcoming trial will no doubt have significant residual effects in the years to come.
Featured image: Reuters journalist Wa Lone, center, is escorted by police as he leaves the court after trial Monday, July 9, 2018, in Yangon, Myanmar. | AP Photo/Thein Zaw