YANGON — A group of 50 Pulitzer Prize winners has urged authorities in Myanmar to immediately release two Reuters reporters arrested in Yangon earlier this month and drop the charges against them.
Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on Dec. 12 after accepting an invitation from police to have dinner on Yangon’s outskirts.
They had been covering the crisis in Rakhine State and were charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act for “illegally acquiring information with the intention to share it with foreign media.” The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
“Their arrest is an outrageous attack on media freedom. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are brave, principled and professional journalists who were working in the public interest and were jailed simply for doing their jobs,” the Pulitzer winners said in a joint statement issued Wednesday.
“We call on the Myanmar government to immediately release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, reunite them with their families, and drop all charges against them.”
The Pulitzer winners join several rights groups and Western governments including the US and UK in condemning the arrests as an attack on the free press and demanding their release.
They are among the 11 journalists arrested in Myanmar in 2017 for defamation or other alleged crimes under some of the country’s repressive and widely derided laws, some of them dating back to British rule.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were remanded in custody for an additional 14 days on Wednesday during their first court appearance since their arrest.
At the time of their arrest, the pair was reporting on the military’s violent crackdown in Rakhine since militants launched a coordinated attack on security force posts in the state on Aug. 25. The army’s response has driven some 650,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh and elicited accusations of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide from the international community.
The military has denied that its forces committed any rights abuses.