WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Wednesday said it is “deeply disappointed” by the decision of the Myanmar Court that’s allowing the prosecution of two journalists under the Official Secrets Act.
“The media freedom that is so critical to rule of law and a strong democracy requires that journalists be able to do their jobs,” it said in a written statement on the prosecution of Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27.
The department also reiterated its call for the journalists’ immediate and unconditional release.
The two journalists, arrested in December 2017 in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, now face up to 14 years in prison.
Myanmar authorities claimed the journalists violated the country’s “Official Secrets Act” against espionage and the leaking of sensitive government information, mainly related to “Rakhine State and security forces”.
The Official Secrets Act, which was introduced to Myanmar under British colonial rule, provides for the protection of state secrets and official information, related to national security.
Also in October 2017, a Myanmar court jailed two journalists working for a Turkish news channel, sentencing them to two months of hard labour after being arrested for possessing an aerial drone.
Over 656,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children and women, have fled Bangladesh since Aug 25, when Myanmar’s forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in Rakhine state, according to the UN.
The refugees, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, are fleeing a military operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages.
According to Doctors Without Borders, at least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state from Aug 25 to Sept 24.
In a report published on Dec 12, the global humanitarian organization said that the deaths of 71.7 per cent or 6,700 Rohingya were caused by violence. They include 730 children below the age of 5.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings – including of infants and young children – brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.