The Irrawaddy

Civil Society Groups Urge Release of Reuters Reporters

Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are transported in a police vehicle after a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar April 20, 2018 . REUTERS/Ann Wang - RC11BD289250

MANDALAY — More than 160 civil society groups sent an open letter to President U Win Myint on Thursday, urging for the immediate release of two Reuters journalists and calling for an investigation committee to look into the case.

The letter stated that the two reporters were set up by police, but that they still do not have their freedom.

The statement continued to say that the arrest and trial didn’t make sense and that it was unjust that the reporters and police officers were still detained.

“We are urging for the immediate release of the detainees,” it read.

The open letter was signed by 163 civil society groups including the Burmese Women’s Union (BWU), Generation Wave, Community Response Action Group (COMREG), Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP) and National Network for Educational Reform (NNER).

The groups also urged for a national-level investigation committee to be formed.

“We urge the president to form a national-level investigation committee to investigate the whole case and to review the trial. If not, trust in the judicial system could be damaged,” said Ko Thatoe, a spokesperson from COMREG.

The civil society groups also urged the president to provide social security to the families of the detained, as well as to ensure their rights.

“We believe the president will address this matter because he once said that he would try his best to make the judiciary more just, fair, and free from bias,” he added.

The civil society groups said they are closely watching the trial and will act accordingly.

“The detainees were arrested four months ago. We want them to be released immediately, as the reporters were framed,” said Ko Thatoe. “We are closely watching whether the judiciary is just and we will increase our action if necessary.”

The two Reuters reporters, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, were arrested on Dec. 12 last year. They were accused of possessing confidential government papers and have been charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. They are facing a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for the alleged crime. 

Police captain Moe Yan Naing, a prosecution witness, testified to the court on April 20 that police Brigadier-General Tin Ko Ko had ordered police officers to frame the reporters by handing the confidential documents and then arresting them.

The police captain was also detained following the arrest of the reporters. He is facing separate charges for passing the government documents that could result in imprisonment and dismissal from his position.