A court in Myanmar declined bail on Thursday for two Reuters journalists accused of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act, although their defense lawyer claimed that the information at the center of their case was publicly available and had been published in newspaper reports.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in Rakhine state, where an army crackdown on insurgents that started in August has triggered the flight of nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh, according to the United Nations.
The reporters were detained on December 12 after they had been invited to meet police officers. They have told relatives they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some documents at a restaurant by two officers they had not met before.
Police Major Min Thant, who said he led the team of arresting officers, on Thursday submitted what he said were secret documents seized from the two reporters to the district court in Yangon.
Police have previously said the documents contained information on the disposition and operations of security forces in Rakhine’s Maungdaw district.
Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief, Stephen J. Adler, expressed disappointment at the decision and called for the journalists’ prompt release.
“It has now been more than fifty days since they were arrested, and they should have the opportunity to be with their families as the hearings continue,” he said in a statement.
“We believe the court proceedings will demonstrate their innocence and Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will be able to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar.”
The courtroom was packed with reporters and diplomats from the U.S., British, Canadian, Norwegian, Swedish, French and Danish embassies as well as United Nations and European Union officials.
The next hearing will be on February 6.