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.”


Arrests follow rape of Indian anti-trafficking activists

Updated 34 min 37 sec ago
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Arrests follow rape of Indian anti-trafficking activists

  • At least 60 NGOS in four networks are working on a memorandum asking the state to protect activists
  • More recently it brought in the death penalty for those who rape children under the age of 12 following a national outcry over the gang rape

NEW DELHI: Police have made a series of arrests in connection with the abduction and rape at gunpoint of five anti-trafficking campaigners in the central Indian state of Jharkhand early this week.

Khunti police station officials, where the incident happened, told Arab News that three people have been arrested, including the head of the school where the play was being performed. 

Police superintendent Ashwini Kumar Sinha said a leader of a local movement called Pathalgadi instigated the accused, saying that the play performers were against the movement and should be taught a lesson. 

Pathalgadi is a political movement whose followers recognize their village councils as the only sovereign authority and views all outsiders suspiciously.

Activists working in the area say the incident has left them shocked and worried for their safety.

Earlier this week, nine activists were abducted while performing a street play in Kochang village and driven into a forest, where they were beaten and the women raped.

The activists were from the nonprofit organization Asha Kiran, which runs a shelter in the Khunti district for young women rescued from trafficking. Activists say that while such incidents are rare, the abductions have shaken the community.

“There is definitely fear now,” said Rajan Kumar, of Sinduartola Gramodaya Vikas Vidyalaya, a nonprofit group campaigning against people trafficking in the district. 

“But people have to work. We need to do more to take members of the village council into our confidence.”

Rajiv Ranjan Sinha, of the Jharkhand Anti-Trafficking Network, a coalition of 14 organizations, said the incident has frightened everyone.

“We’ve never had to face this before,” Sinha said. “But it will definitely have an implication. New people will be scared to go into the field.”

On Saturday, several non-profit organizations called for a silent protest march at 10 a.m. in the state capital Ranchi on Sunday.

At least 60 NGOS in four networks are working on a memorandum asking the state to protect activists and to take seriously the issue of violence against women.

“We are not only NGO workers, but we are female also,” a spokeswoman said. “There is a lot of fear among workers now.”

India has a poor record of sexual violence against women — at least 39,000 cases were reported in 2016, the latest government data available. Activists say many more incidents go unreported.

The country changed its rape laws and introduced Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences legislation after the rape and murder of a 19-year-old student in December 2012 in the Indian capital.

More recently it brought in the death penalty for those who rape children under the age of 12 following a national outcry over the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in the northern state of Kashmir.

The girl was kidnapped, drugged and raped in a temple where she was held captive for several days before being beaten to death.