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Kyaw Soe Oo, second left, and Wa Lone, front right, at court in Rangoon in Jan 2018 (LYNN BO BO /EPA)

FORUM-ASIA condemns Myanmar government’s failure to protect human rights of Reuters journalists

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) has expressed its strong opposition against the verdict of the Insein Court in Yangon on 3 Sep, which sentenced two Reuters journalists - Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo - for breaching s.3(1)(c) 1923 Official Secrets Act.

The two journalists were arrested on 12 Dec last year and were subsequently charged under the 1923 Official Secrets Act for "illegally acquiring the information with the intention to share it with foreign media."

According to FORUM-ASIA, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were conducting a journalistic probe on the issue of unbridled violence against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. Both journalists have denied the allegations slapped against them and said that they were trapped by the police officers on the date of the arrest.

The regional human rights group said that the verdict against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is "a serious setback for press freedom in Myanmar, and is part of a larger trend of increasing threats against journalists in the country".

FORUM-ASIA added that "Such threats and violence have consequently diminished the room for covering critical issues like militancy and human rights abuses", particularly in high-conflict areas.

In Myanmar, the implementation and abuse of draconian laws such as the s.66(d) 2013 Telecommunications Law to curb dissent and to sanction discrimination and violence against journalists have aggravated the lack of press freedom in the country, which renders the protection of "the diversity, pluralism, and impartiality of media" virtually impossible, according to the human rights organisation.

FORUM-ASIA argued that "The Government of Myanmar has failed to see the important role of journalism as a partner for safeguarding democracy and protecting human rights in the country."

"The verdict against the Reuters journalists can be seen as an attempt to create an environment of fear and suppress freedom of expression and press freedom in the country," said the human rights group.

Consequently, FORUM-ASIA has strongly urged the Court to "overturn the conviction on appeal and release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo unconditionally and immediately".

Additionally, FORUM-ASIA has called upon the Government of Myanmar to "translate its commitment to democracy and human rights into actions by creating a safe and enabling environment for journalists to work freely and exercise their rights", which entails "repealing all oppressive laws against freedom of expression and press freedom, particularly the 1923 Official Secrets Act and s.66(d) 2013 Telecommunications Law."

FORUM-ASIA further urged the Government of Myanmar to "accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other international human rights treaties in order to demonstrate its commitment to democratic reform and respect of human rights".