Two Reuters journalists could each face 14 years in a Myanmar prison after prosecutors charged the pair under the country’s Official Secrets Act.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested after receiving official documents from two police officers at a rendezvous on 12 December 2017.
The pair have previously reported on Myanmar military action against Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Buddhist Rakhine region, where some 650,000 people have been displaced fleeing violence.
In a statement, Reuters president and editor in chief Stephen Adler said: “We are extremely disappointed that the authorities seek to prosecute Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.
“We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom. Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar.
“We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s prompt release.”
Lone and Soe Oo were reportedly arrested immediately after police officers, both from the Rakhine region, handed them official documents.
Tweeting in support of the journalists, former US president Bill Clinton said: “A free press is critical to a free society—the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable.
“The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately.”
Wa Lone became a Reuters journalist in 2016. He has since covered similar stories of wrongdoing by Myanmar’s military.
Kyaw Soe Oo was part of a Reuters investigation that revealed the Myanmar government was planning to possess the crops of Rohingyans who had fled the region.
Several rights groups have criticised Myanmar since the arrests.
Amnesty International’s South East Asia Director said: “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo must be immediately and unconditionally released. They have done absolutely nothing but carry out their legitimate work as journalists.
“This is clearly an attempt by the authorities to silence investigations into military violations and crimes against Rohingya in Rakhine State, and to scare other journalists away from doing the same.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists’ senior South East Asia representative Shawn Crispin said: “The charges filed against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo represent a giant step backward for press freedom in Myanmar.”
“Such high-profile legal harassment will inevitably cause other journalists to self-censor their reporting on important stories. These charges should be dropped now before any more damage is done.”