Two Reuters journalists have been charged under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, the news agency said Monday.
Yangon district judge Ye Lwin charged reporters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, with breaching the colonial-era Official Secret Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, according to Reuters. The two men have pleaded not guilty.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested late last year while reporting on the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence and official persecution.
In a statement, Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said “we are deeply disappointed that the court declined to end this protracted and baseless proceeding against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.”
“These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way, and there are no facts or evidence to suggest that they’ve done anything wrong or broken any law. They should be released and reunited with their families, friends, and colleagues,” he added. “Today’s decision casts serious doubt on Myanmar’s commitment to press freedom and the rule of law.”
Reuters published a special investigation earlier this year that featured Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s bylines.
It documented the killing of 10 Rohingya men reportedly carried out by Buddhist villagers and Myanmar troops. Reuters described the groundbreaking report as the first time that soldiers and paramilitary police had been implicated in testimony from security personnel.
The report used photographs, reporting and interviews conducted in Myanmar and Bangladesh to reconstruct the final moments of the dead men, who were fishermen, shopkeepers, teenage students and a religious teacher.
The Myanmar military has since admitted its forces had a role in the killings, and jailed seven soldiers. Police officers and civilians involved in the incident are currently facing trial.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s imprisonment has attracted further international criticism of Myanmar’s government and the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who already faces a loss in support for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.
In April, police captain Moe Yan Naing shocked the court by claiming he witnessed a plot by senior police to frame the two journalists.