UN experts, Britain demand release of Reuters reporters in Myanmar

Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo is escorted by police before a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar. (Reuters)
Updated 13 April 2018
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UN experts, Britain demand release of Reuters reporters in Myanmar

  • Boris Johnson: Myanmar must show its 'commitment to media freedom'
  • A court in Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings since January

LONDON/GENEVA Britain’s foreign minister and United Nations human rights rapporteurs separately called on Thursday for the release of two Reuters reporters detained in Myanmar, after a judge rejected a request for their case to be dismissed.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Twitter that Myanmar must show its “commitment to media freedom” while the UN special rapporteurs said in a joint statement that the pursuit of the case against Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, gave rise to “grave concern for investigative journalism.”
A Myanmar government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
A court in Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings since January to decide whether the journalists will be charged for possessing secret government papers under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
Judge Ye Lwin rejected on Wednesday a defense request to dismiss the case against the two reporters, who have been held since December, for lack of evidence. The judge said he wanted to hear the eight remaining prosecution witnesses out of the 25 listed, according to defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw.
On Tuesday, seven Myanmar soldiers were sentenced to 10 years “with hard labor in a remote area” for participating in a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in northwestern Rakhine state last September, the army said.
Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, and David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, noted the journalists could be sentenced to longer terms if found guilty.
“The perpetrators of a massacre that was, in part, the subject of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting have been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. And yet these two reporters face a possible 14 years imprisonment. The absurdity of this trial and the wrongfulness of their detention and prosecution are clear,” they said in a joint statement.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN.
The country’s ambassador to the UN, Hau Do Suan, said last month that the journalists were not arrested for reporting a story, but were accused of “illegally possessing confidential government documents.”

ARMY CRACKDOWN
An army crackdown, unleashed in response to Rohingya militant attacks on security forces in August, has been beset by allegations of murder, rape, arson and looting. The UN and United States described it as ethnic cleansing — an accusation which Myanmar denies.
Nearly 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Rakhine state and crossed into southern Bangladesh since then.
After the UN experts made their comments, Johnson took to Twitter on the case. “Very disappointed to hear Burmese @Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are now to face trial,” he said. “Reiterate my calls for their release: Burmese authorities must show their commitment to media freedom.”
At this stage the prosecutor is trying to persuade the court to file charges. The preliminary proceedings are still underway and only after they are completed is the court expected to decide whether to send the two reporters to trial.


Armenian protest leader will only discuss PM's 'departure'

Updated 18 min 11 sec ago
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Armenian protest leader will only discuss PM's 'departure'

  • Demonstrators waved Armenian flags and blocked streets, disrupting traffic in the capital.
  • "The whole world can see this is a people's velvet revolution, which very soon will be victorious," Pashinyan said.
YEREVAN: Armenia's political crisis deepened Saturday on the ninth day of anti-government demonstrations, with protest leader Nikol Pashinyan insisting he would only discuss the exit of the country's newly elected prime minister.
Tens of thousands of people flocked to Republic Square in the capital Yerevan to protest against new premier Serzh Sarkissian's rule, according to AFP journalists at the scene.
"We are only ready to discuss the conditions of his departure," news agencies quoted Pashinyan as saying, rejecting Sarkissian's appeal for "political dialogue".
"Serzh Sarkissian doesn't understand the new situation that has emerged in the recent days... the Armenia and Yerevan he knows does not exist anymore," he told protestors.
Opposition supporters are angry over Sarkissian's efforts to remain in power, after he became prime minister last week, following a decade serving as president.
Demonstrators waved Armenian flags and blocked streets, disrupting traffic in the capital. Police said they made 84 arrests on Saturday afternoon, and more than 230 people were arrested on Friday.
Rallies were also planned in other cities such as Gyumri, Ararat and Artashat.
President Armen Sarkissian -- no relation to Serzh -- on Saturday afternoon met Pashinyan at the demonstration, an AFP journalist said.
Flanked by bodyguards President Sarkissian shook hands with the opposition leader and the pair spoke for around ten minutes.
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian had earlier sought discussions with the protest leader.
"I am deeply concerned about the unfolding internal political events. In order to avoid irreversible consequences, I call on deputy Nikol Pashinyan to sit at the table of political dialogue and negotiation," the 63-year-old leader said in a statement.
At a 30,000 strong rally in Yerevan on Friday evening, Pashinyan laid out his demands for the authorities.
"First, Sarkissian resigns. Second, parliament elects a new prime minister that represents the people.
"Third, it forms a temporary government. Fourth, they schedule parliamentary elections. We will enter negotiations around these demands," he said, calling Serzh Sarkissian a "political corpse".
"The whole world can see this is a people's velvet revolution, which very soon will be victorious," Pashinyan told the rally.
Demonstrators on Saturday held up placards reading "Sarkissian is a dictator".
"I believe we will win this time because when the youth is on the street the police can do nothing," Hovik Haranyan, a 25-year-old protester blocking traffic, told AFP.
"Our generation has the right to live in a functioning country," he added.
Opposition supporters have criticised the 63-year-old leader over poverty, corruption and the influence of powerful oligarchs.
A former military officer, Serzh Sarkissian has been in charge of the landlocked South Caucasus nation of 2.9 million people for a decade.
Under a new parliamentary system of government, lawmakers elected Serzh Sarkissian as prime minister last week after he served a decade as president from 2008.
Constitutional amendments approved in 2015 have transferred power from the presidency to the premier.
After he was first elected in 2008, 10 people died and hundreds were injured in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.