Back to top

Ko Wa Lone arrested under Official Secrets Act

Status: 
Sentenced to 7 years
About the situation

On 3 September 2018, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison with hard labour. In a small concession, the long period which they have spent imprisoned since their arrest will be taken into consideration.

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.

4 September 2018
Human rights journalists sentenced to 7 years in prison

On 3 September 2018, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison with hard labour. In a small concession, the long period which they have spent imprisoned since their arrest will be taken into consideration.

The presiding judge based his verdict on evidence found on the human rights defenders’ phones, and declared that they had “intended to harm the interests of the state”. At the time of their arrest, in December 2017, the journalists had been working on a story concerning the murders of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine region in September earlier that year.

On 12 December 2017, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested after they met two policemen in a restaurant and were handed documents. A police witness testified during the trial that the meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists. He was later suspended and jailed.

The human rights defenders have repeatedly maintained their innocence and had pleaded not guilty during their trial. Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the unjust conviction and sentence handed to Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, as it believes such 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.

13 July 2018
Journalists to go to trial under state secrets act

On 9 July 2018, the Northern District Court in Yangon ruled that Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo will go to full trial. They are charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. If found guilty, they could each face up to 14 years in prison. Their first hearing is set for 16 July 2018.

The human rights defenders have been in pre-trial detention since 12 December 2017, when they were arrested shortly after receiving documents from two police officers while investigating human rights violations in Rakhine state. They were detained in Insein Prison while they attended pre-trial hearings that lasted more than six months. Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kya Soe Oo have repeatedly maintained their innocence.

Front Line Defenders condemns the detention of the human rights defenders and urges the authorities in Myanmar to quash their charges and release them immediately.

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.