Detained Reuters Journalists Appear in Myanmar Court

An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Shah Porir Dwip Bangladesh September 11. REUTERS  Danish Siddiqui

An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Shah Porir Dwip Bangladesh September 11. REUTERS Danish Siddiqui

Authorities in Myanmar sought to press charges against two Reuters journalists during a Wednesday court appearance.

"If any person for any objective prejudicial to the safety or interest of the State obtains, collects, records or publishes or communicates to any other person any secret official code or password, or any sketch, plan, model, article or note or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy", they could be punished with time in prison, that particular section of the law states.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017.

Reuters journalist Wa Lone arrives at the court in Yangon on January 10.

Should the reporters be charged and convicted, they could face up to 14 years in prison, according to their lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said they show how press freedom is deteriorating in Myanmar and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for their release.

Wa Lone said, "They arrested us to prevent us from finding the truth".

In November, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded the journalists' "immediate release or information as to the circumstances around their disappearance", while European Union representative to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt warned that their prosecution "amounts to a series intimidation against journalists" in Myanmar.

They had worked on coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where a military crackdown that followed militant attacks on security forces in August led to an exodus of more than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims to refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Human rights groups have accused the police of entrapping the two Reuters journalists by giving them documents that were then deemed state secrets.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay declined to comment on the charges but said the two had their rights under an independent judicial system. The journalists are being held in the notoriously harsh Insein✓ prison in Yangon.

Government officials from some of the world's major nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as top United Nations officials, have called for the release of the reporters.

The family of Wa Lone has sent a letter to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the detention of the two journalists and are hoping for a response from the country's de facto civilian leader.

"What with the lack of transparency, the failure to respect proper legal procedure and the fabrication of evidence, everything suggests that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are being used by the authorities as scapegoats in order to deter overly curious reporters".

Suu Kyi won a 2015 election and formed a government in early 2016, although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president.

The military has severely restricted access to Rakhine to reporters, aid groups and observers. Both reporters have said they were not mistreated in custody, the report said. The government has denied that their arrests represent an attack on press freedom.

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