The Irrawaddy

Authorities Urged to Let Detained Reporters See Lawyers, Family

Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone were charged under the Official Secrets Act

YANGON — The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) on Thursday urged authorities to grant two detained Reuters journalists access to lawyers, family members and health care.

The two journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were arrested in Yangon on Dec. 12 allegedly for possessing police reports containing detailed information about the fighting between government troops and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in late August. Authorities have not disclosed where they are being held.

According to a police report last week, the two are accused of violating Article 3 of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which allows for prison sentences of up to 14 years. Two border guard policemen who allegedly provided the documents to the reporters are accused of violating both the Official Secrets Act and the Myanmar Police Force Maintenance of Discipline Law.

“The MNHRC has learned according to a complaint that family members of the two reporters are unable to meet with them while the location of the place the pair is being detained is not disclosed and they have no access to lawyers to defend them against the accusations,” the commission said in a statement.

The MNHRC urged authorities not to torture the reporters during their detention and ensure that they be allowed to exercise their full rights, including accessing lawyers and contacting family members.

When The Irrawaddy asked if the commission would contact the Ministry of Home Affairs to find out more about the case, commissioner U Yu Lwin Aung said that issuing statements like today’s was the most “effective” tool the MNHRC had to let everyone concerned know about its position.

“The statement will reach all parties concerned — the Ministry of Home Affairs, the President’s Office, the judiciary, media and the public,” he said, insisting that the commission’s call would not be ignored.

U Yu Lwin Aung predicted that there would be some developments in the case in a few days because of the statement. He said the arrests were made in line with the law, but stressed that the reporters should be granted the rights they deserve according to human rights norms.

The Myanmar Press Council said on Wednesday that it would like to mediate in the case, offering to provide the reporters with legal assistance and serve as an expert witness should the case go to trial and if the court allows it.

According to a Reuters reported on Wednesday, President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said police had nearly completed their investigation of the two journalists and that their case would head to court soon afterward.

In 2017, 11 journalists were arrested by the police or military  for defamation or under various laws including the Telecommunications Law, the Official Secrets Act and the Unlawful Associations Act.