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Ko Wa Lone arrested under Official Secrets Act

Status: 
Arrested & Charged
About the situation

On 12 December 2017, two human rights journalists, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, were arrested in Yangon. They were working on stories about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State. They will be charged under Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act, 1923, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

About Ko Wa Lone

ko_wa_lone.jpgKo Wa Lone is a correspondent for the Yangon bureau of Reuters news service. He was formerly a senior reporter for the Myanmar Times and joined Reuters in July 2016. He has regularly reported on military activities in northern Rakhine State. This year he jointly won an honorable mention from the Society of Publishers in Asia for his Reuters coverage of the Rakhine crisis in 2016.

10 January 2018
Update: Human rights journalists formally charged under Official Secrets Act

On 10 January 2018,  human rights journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo  were formally charged at Insein courthouse, Yangon, under the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years. They are accused of obtaining state secrets in the context of their human rights work in reporting on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population in Rakhine state.

Ko Wa Lone is a correspondent for the Yangon bureau of Reuters news service. He was formerly a senior reporter for the Myanmar Times before joining Reuters in July 2016 where part of his work involves reporting on military activities in northern Rakhine State. In 2017 he was the joint recipient of an honourable mention from the Society of Publishers in Asia for his Reuters coverage of the Rakhine crisis in 2016. Ko Kyaw Soe Oo has been working with Reuters since September 2017. He has previously reported on the segregation of the Rohingya and Rakhine communities enforced by local Buddhists.

On December 12 2017, the two journalists were arrested after meeting with members of the police, who shared unspecified documents with the journalists. After the arrest, the Ministry of Information released a statement claiming that the defenders were arrested for “possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces". The statement further specified "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media".

A large number of journalists gathered outside the courthouse in support of the detained journalists. On seeing the journalists who had gathered at the courthouse in  support of the defenders, Ko Kyaw Soe Oo told them to help by uncovering the truth. A lawyer for both the journalists reported that Ko Wa Lone has been suffering from a hernia and back pain but has not received any medical attention while in detention. The next court appearance for the journalists is set for 23 January 2018.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Myanmar to immediately drop all charges against Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, which it believes are directly connected with their peaceful and legitimate work for human rights in Myanmar and the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

18 December 2017
Two human rights journalists arrested under Official Secrets Act

On 12 December 2017, two human rights journalists, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, were arrested in Yangon. They were working on stories about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State. They will be charged under Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act, 1923, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

Ko Wa Lone is a correspondent for the Yangon bureau of Reuters news service. He was formerly a senior reporter for the Myanmar Times and joined Reuters in July 2016. He has regularly reported on military activities in northern Rakhine State. This year he jointly won an honorable mention from the Society of Publishers in Asia for his Reuters coverage of the Rakhine crisis in 2016. Ko Kyaw Soe Oo has been working with Reuters since September 2017. He has previously reported on the segregation enforced by local Buddhists between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities.

On 12 December, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo went missing after they had been invited to meet police officials for dinner. The two reporters were arrested and officially charged at Htauk Kyant station in Mingalardon Township in northern Yangon on 12 December at 11:30 pm. The two police officials whom they were meeting were also arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act. On December 13, The Ministry of Information of Myanmar released a statement claiming that the reporters had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”. On 14 December, the police told Ko Wa Lone’s wife that the reporters were taken from Htaunt Kyant police station in north Yangon to an undisclosed location by an investigation team shortly after their arrest.

Journalists are not allowed to travel independently to northern Rakhine State, where the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority is primarily taking place. Pre-publication censorship has ended, but the government is clamping down on freedom of speech through colonial laws, threats, intimidation and imprisonment. On 30 July 2017, human rights defender and chief editor of Myanmar Now news agency Ko Swe Win was arrested at Yangon International Airport as he was trying to fly to Bangkok for a short work trip. He was later freed on bail on 31 July. He was reportedly taken into police custody in relation to a defamation case brought by a follower of an extremist Buddhist monk.

Front Line Defenders condemns the arrest and detention of human rights defenders Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, which it believes are directly connected with their peaceful and legitimate work for human rights in Myanmar and the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Myanmar to:

1. Immediately free Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo and drop all charges against them, as it is believed that they are solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;

2. Inform the families and lawyers of Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo of their place of detention, and allow them immediate and unfettered access to the human rights defenders;

3. Ensure that the treatment of Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, while in detention, adheres to the conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment', adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Myanmar are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.