Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who have been held in Yangon’s Insein prison since their arrest in December, were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act by a court on Monday for illegal possession of official documents. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
The reporters denied the charges, insisting they were set up while doing their jobs to expose the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in a Rakhine village in September last year. They said they were invited to dinner by police who handed them documents before the pair were arrested as they left the restaurant for possessing classified material.
“What happened today threatens to undermine the rule of law and freedom of press that democracy requires,” said Kevin Krolicki, Reuters’ regional editor for Asia
The case has sparked an outcry among the international community as an attempt to muzzle reporting on last year’s crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces on the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state. Army-led “clearance operations” drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities.
On Saturday, more than 100 journalists and activists marched through Yangon in support of the reporters, whose trial echoes the treatment of government critics during the long years of military rule in Myanmar.
The same day, Facebook pulled down the pages of Myanmar’s army chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military top brass, in what the company said was a bid to prevent them from further fanning “ethnic and religious tensions”.
The Myanmar government has denied allegations of atrocities made by refugees against its security forces, saying it conducted a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against Muslim militants.