Myanmar authorities charge Reuters journalists with obtaining state secrets

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At the dinner, Captain Moe Yan Naing and Sergeant Khin Maung Lin reportedly gave the journalists documents related to the situation in Rakhine State.

The pair had been reporting on the military campaign in the northern Rakhine state that has forced some 655,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee over the border to Bangladesh since August, violence the United Nations has condemned as ethnic cleansing.

The most recent high profile case regarding the Official Secrets Act came in 2014, when the now-defunct Unity Journal ran a front page story claiming to have exposed a secret chemical weapons factory run by the military in central Myanmar.

Section 3 covers entering prohibited places, taking images or handling secret official documents that "might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy".

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested December 12 after police accused them of violating the colonial-era law by acquiring "important secret papers" from two policemen. It accused them of having "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

After a half-hour session, the case was adjourned until January 23, when bail arguments will be heard. That they have pressed ahead indicates the limits of worldwide condemnation, which has included demands for their immediate release from Western governments, and a global media spotlight. When they went outside, seven police surrounded them and arrested them.

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, are charged with allegedly violating the Official Secrets Act and face up to 14 years in prison if convicted. Outside the gates, several dozen local journalists held up a vinyl poster demanding their release.

Arriving shortly after 10am, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were bundled through a media scrum into the courtroom.

"I am trying to be strong in everything".

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

"It is not the same as what Ko Wa Lone and [Kyaw Soe Oo] said, and what is understood by the world", Than Zaw Aung said.

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Valerie Volcovici, a Reuters journalist and NewsGuild member, said the detention of her colleagues in Myanmar was just the latest in a worrying global trend of attacks on, and undermining of, journalists and the media. Reuters [Reuters report] Editor-in-Chief also condemned the arrests, calling it a "blatant attack on press freedom". "We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release", he said. Government spokesman U Zaw Htay declined to comment when asked if the two officers had been or would also be charged.

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

Global leaders, including former USA president Bill Clinton, and government officials from some of the world's major nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as United Nations officials, have called for their release. Representatives of the United Nations and various embassies including the UK, the US, Australia and the Netherlands attended the hearing.

The U.S. embassy said it was "very disappointed" by the decision to pursue charges.

"For democracy to succeed and flourish, journalists must be able to do their jobs", the embassy statement added.

Significantly, Clinton was USA 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.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reiterated its call for the immediate release of two Burmese reporters working for the Reuters news agency. Authorities have largely banned media from the conflict zone.

"A free press is critical to a free society-the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable", he tweeted on Monday.

This week, former U.S. president Bill Clinton also weighed in on the issue.

Suu Kyi won a 2015 election and formed Myanmar's first civilian government in more than half a century in early 2016, although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president.