Amid global outrage, Myanmar books 2 journos for reporting on Rakhine violence

Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo waves to his daughter as he arrives at the court in Yangon Myanmar

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested on December 12 after contributing to Reuters' coverage of the crisis in the state of Rakhine, where killing and abuse of the Rohingya minority have been blamed on the Myanmar army.

More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape a brutal crackdown in which security forces have been accused of systematic abuses tantamount to ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar's Ministry of Information has said the reporters "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

"The judge will be decide whether they are guilty or not according to the law", he told Reuters.

"The United States is deeply disappointed by today's court decision in Burma to allow prosecution of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under the Official Secrets Act", according to a US State Department statement received here this morning.

"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". The trial against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is scheduled to begin on January 23.

Reuters correspondent Andrew Marshall said his colleagues "are innocent men who were arrested for doing their jobs" and also called for their release.

Phil Robertson of the group Human Rights Watch said that "if Aung San Suu Kyi and her government really cared about democratic reforms and governance, they could use their parliamentary majority to quickly reform this antiquated colonial law and bring it into compliance with worldwide human rights standards". "We call for their immediate release", it said in a statement. The six were initially charged under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act but were released without charge in July, having spent nearly two months in jail. "Press freedom is essential for democracy", U.S. Senator Edward Markey said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.

"The EU considers this case an important test for Myanmar's commitment to press freedom, an independent judiciary and the development of democratic institutions".

Significantly, Clinton was U.S. president for much of the 1990s when the American administration pressed Myanmar's then military regime to release democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi from years of house arrest. Journalists must be able to freely exercise their profession without fear of intimidation or arrest.

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"There is deep concern and it is very worrying to see that press freedom in Myanmar is really declining", he said from the French capital, Paris.

Kono's three-day visit to Myanmar includes travelling to Rakhine state.

In a report released in November, Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum found "mounting evidence" of the crime of genocide by state security forces against Rohingya in Rakhine State and documented information about mass graves.

"It's not too late for the government to unconditionally drop the charges and let them go home to their families", said the group's chief executive, Matthew Smith.

The two journalists had worked on Reuters coverage of the crisis in Rakhine.

A Myanmar court has charged two Reuters journalists, who were covering the crisis of Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state, of allegedly violating a national secrecy law.

Fellow journalists appeared in the courtroom Wednesday in support of the pair.

- Amnesty International demanded the immediate release of the two journalists, saying they had been arbitrarily detained.

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

Reporting on the Rohingya crisis has proven hard for members of the foreign press, who are prohibited from entering the conflict-torn areas of northern Rakhine and rarely granted interviews with top government officials.

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