U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently met with Myanmar/Burma’s Foreign Minister, U Kyaw Tin, at the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, located in Singapore. Pompeo urged the release of two Reuters journalists who are being held and charged with breaking a colonial-era “Official Secrets Act.” Pompeo later tweeted:
Today at @ASEAN ministerials, I spoke with #Burma’s Minister Kyaw Tin and raised US concerns about 2 @Reuters reporters detained in Burma for doing their job. They should be released immediately. @StateDept #singapore #ASEAN2018
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) August 4, 2018
The two journalists, Kyaw Soe Oo and Ko Wa Lone, were investigating allegations of the murder of 10 Rohingya men when they were placed under arrest — reports indicate that they were invited to a police officer’s home, handed illegal documents, and then arrested immediately thereafter. The case has not only caught the attention of the international community, but it may serve as a landmark case for Myanmar’s future when it comes to freedom of the press.
The story the journalists were investigating still aired, a while after their detention. The ten Rohingya men who were executed by Myanmar soldiers were buried in a mass grave — this story is one of the countless similar stories coming out of Rakhine State, but it was more significant because of the mountain of evidence the two journalists had gathered to support it. They had corroborating statements from the locals, family members of the deceased, other refugees who had escaped, Buddhist villagers who are otherwise not supportive of the Rohingya’s plight, and even from the Burmese soldiers involved in the killings. The evidence was so compelling, it forced the government to admit their wrongdoing after their constant, usual sweeping denials — this admission is a very rare occurrence.
They were arrested, according to the Ministry of Information, because they “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media.” Under the charges, they might spend up to 14 years in a Myanmar prison. The conditions in these prisons are notoriously bad, and you can read more about that here.
Whether Secretary of State Pompeo’s words will have a direct effect on the charges of Kyaw Soe Oo and Ko Wa Lone is not certain. However, continuous international pressure has had positive effects before.
Featured image: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, meets Myanmar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Tin on the sidelines of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Singapore, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. | AP Photo/Joseph Nair