Myanmar court denies bail to Reuters journalists held under secrecy law

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are escorted by police while arriving for a court hearing in Yangon on February 1. (Reuters)
Updated 01 February 2018
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Myanmar court denies bail to Reuters journalists held under secrecy law

YANGON: A Myanmar court on Thursday denied bail to two Reuters journalists charged under a secrecy act that could see them face up to 14 years in jail, in a case that has sparked outcry over shrinking media freedom.
Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, are accused of possessing classified documents thought to relate to the violent military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The crackdown in northern Rakhine state has forced nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh since August, many carrying allegations of rape, mass murder and arson at the hands of Myanmar’s army.
“The pair can’t be granted bail according to the law ... and the court has decided not to give them bail,” judge Ye Lwin told the Yangon court of charges under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
The journalists, who have been in custody since December, say they were given the papers by two policemen who had invited them to dinner in the outskirts of Yangon.
As they left the restaurant, they say they were arrested before they even had a chance to look at the documents.
The court had discretion to grant bail if it deemed that their detention had been unlawful.
Myanmar authorities have been urged to free the journalists by media freedom campaigners as well as a cast of diplomats and international grandees including former US president Bill Clinton.
Thursday’s bail decision was crucial as pre-trial hearings are expected to drag on for several months before the court officially decides whether to take on the case or not.
The pair are now expected to remain in jail throughout that period.
On hearing the refusal of bail, Wa Lone’s wife Pan Ei Mon cried.
“I hoped to get it,” she said, crying. “I even cleaned his room last night to prepare for him getting bail.”
Reuters has refused to comment on the exact details of what its correspondents were reporting on at the time of their arrest but it is widely thought they were investigating a massacre of Rohingya in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine.
The military later acknowledged members of the security forces took part in the extrajudicial killing, saying it would hold those responsible to account.
UN special rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee added her voice in support of the journalists from a press conference in Seoul, calling the pair “brave” and “fearless.”
She has been banned from Myanmar by authorities who say she is working with a bias against the country.
“I remain deeply perplexed and concerned that they remain in detention despite the military having admitted responsibility for the killings at Inn Din,” she said, adding that “they should be released immediately and the charges against them must be dropped.”


5 years after mall Kenya attack, Al-Shabab’s threat grows

Updated 29 min 29 sec ago
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5 years after mall Kenya attack, Al-Shabab’s threat grows

  • Analysts say the Somalia-based extremist group has been pushed down Africa’s east coast as far as Mozambique
  • The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011

NAIROBI: Five years after Al-Shabab fighters burst into a luxury shopping mall in Kenya’s capital, hurling grenades and starting a days-long siege that left 67 people dead, analysts say the Somalia-based extremist group has been pushed down Africa’s east coast as far as Mozambique as its regional threat expands.
The assault on Westgate Mall on a sunny weekend afternoon horrified the world and exposed weaknesses in Kenya’s security forces after it took them hours to respond. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised reforms.
Now the government of East Africa’s commercial hub is praising itself, saying security forces have effectively limited attacks to areas near the Somali border. “We learnt our mistakes and corrected them,” police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet told reporters this week, pointing out real-time intelligence sharing among security agencies.
Analysts, however, say few sustainable lessons have been learned while Al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa, has changed its strategy with devastating effects.
The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011. The group has killed hundreds of people inside Kenya, which has been targeted more than any other of the six countries providing troops to an African Union force in Somalia.
“Al-Shabab’s goal in carrying out attacks outside Somalia is to pressure authorities within the region to pull their troops out of Somalia. That aim has not been achieved and all indications are that the movement continues to plot assaults in cities across East Africa to advance its objectives,” said Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
A new report by the think tank says some Al-Shabab extremists previously based on the Kenyan coast have moved south into Tanzania and, in response to crackdowns there, relocated into northern Mozambique and forged ties with local fighters.
The Kenyan government’s initial response to the Westgate attack, involving blanket arrests of Muslims and indiscriminate crackdowns aimed at ethnic Somalis, inflamed communities and made matters worse, Mutiga said.
The government later changed its approach and appointed local ethnic Somalis to lead security operations in the northeast near the Somali border.
That area, however, has seen growing attacks by Al-Shabab that have killed more than 100 police officers since May 2017.
“Kenyan security officials seem to have failed to contain that threat,” Mutiga said. Other major attacks since Westgate in the region, often targeting Christians, have included massacres of bus passengers and the assault on Garissa University in 2015 that left 147 people dead.
The pressure on Al-Shabab since Westgate has included training and counterterrorism equipment provided by Western countries including the US and Britain.
The attack also changed the way Kenyan institutions are protected. Shopping malls, office buildings, university campuses, government facilities and the main airport have invested substantial sums in additional security, including surveillance.
As Al-Shabab focuses its attacks largely on Christians in Kenya’s Muslim-majority border communities, it has managed to stall economic activity and education, said Kenya-based security analyst and former US Marine Andrew Franklin. Many children who drop out of school as teaching staff flee become targets for recruitment by the extremists.
Kenyans make up the majority of Al-Shabab’s foreign fighters.
While economic activity in the borderlands weakens and corruption grows, morale and effectiveness of security forces has eroded, Franklin said.
There is a “tremendous amount of complacency” among security agencies, he said, leading to the conclusion that senior officials have little interest in countering Al-Shabab’s insurgency.
For Andrew Munya, who was injured in the Westgate attack when shrapnel hit his left shoulder, Kenya will not be safe until Al-Shabab is dealt with for good.
“There is no difference whether a life is lost in the border areas or in the city,” said Munya, who later became a security consultant while vowing to never to let his community and family become victims. “All life is precious and must be protected.”