Two Reuters journalists reached their 100th day in detention in Myanmar on Wednesday as pre-trial hearings drag on over charges under the Official Secrets Act in a case that has incensed global opinion.
Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, attended their 11th pre-trial date at the Yangon court that could jail them for up to 14 years if the pair are convicted over the possession of classified documents.
The courthouse was packed with family members, media and diplomats offering their support to the detainees as they listened to Wa Lone’s younger brother make an impassioned defense of his sibling.
“He is a good man in my family and he works hard,” Thura Aung said, adding that his brother “helps people and teaches children.”
The reporters had been investigating the killing by security forces and ethnic Rakhine locals of 10 unarmed Rohingya Muslim men in the country’s crisis-hit northern Rakhine State.
The army has acknowledged extradjudicial killings took place of the Rohingya men, who were in custody at the time, in Inn Din village vowing to take action against those responsible.
Still the Reuters’ pair were arrested for investigating the massacre.
The reporters’ families say they were ensnared by two policemen who invited them for dinner and gave them the documents in question before their arrest shortly after leaving the restaurant.
“They have been detained in Myanmar since December 12 simply for doing their jobs as journalists,” Reuters President Stephen J. Adler said in a statement released to mark their 100 days behind bars.
“They should be in the newsroom, not in prison.”
Calls have echoed around the world for their release, including from former US president Bill Clinton and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres as fears about the country’s shrinking press freedoms grow.
More than 42,000 people signed a petition organized by the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong but the doors of the Myanmar consulate in the city were closed when they tried to deliver it, the club’s president Florence de Changy tweeted.
Some 700,000 Rohingya have fled a savage crackdown by Myanmar’s military to seek refuge over the border in vast camps in Bangladesh, bringing with them consistent testimony of murder, rape and arson.
Myanmar authorities deny the vast bulk of allegations but have tightly restricted access to the region, only allowing media and observers there on chaperoned trips.