Burma Human Rights Network strongly condemns the Burmese court’s decision to charge Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo with violating 3.1(c) of the archaic Official Secrets Act and calls for their immediate release. The court’s decision demonstrates clearly that Burma is nowhere near the reformed country the international community had longed hoped it was becoming. The charges against the reporters are not only based on an outdated and anti-democratic law, but there is no evidence the law was even violated. If found guilty Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo may face up to 14 years in prison. The men were arrested while they were investigating mass killings of Rohingya Muslims by Burma’s security forces.
Kyaw Win, Executive Director of BHRN said, “The court’s decision to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for doing their jobs is a clear indication that Burma remains an oppressive and undemocratic country even under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s authority. This is sending a signal to other journalists that doing their jobs honestly and with integrity will be punished severely. It is an absolute travesty of justice. These men should be released immediately”.
The Burma Human Rights network is calling on the Burmese authorities to immediately release 23-year-old Ma Hla Phyu, a Muslim teacher who was arrested, reportedly denied access to a lawyer and sentenced to a year in prison with hard labour for attempting to travel from Kyaukphu, Rakhine State, to the country’s economic centre and former capital, Yangon.
Ma Hla Phyu was found guilty of using someone else’s ID in order to travel to Yangon, which she apparently did as a last resort due to heavily discriminatory policies restricting the travel of Muslims from Rakhine State. She was arrested on 26 May by a joint force of police and military at 10pm in Taungup Township. She was sentenced to a year in prison with hard labour on May 28th under sections 6(2) and 6(3) of the immigration act. She was then sent to Thantwe Prison. She was in possession of a National Verification Card, a lower status temporary I.D. Muslims are pressured to accept, especially in Rakhine State.
On 7th June, 2018 the Burmese Government and United Nations agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the voluntary repatriation of 700,000 Rohingya refugees who were displaced following a military offensive against the civilian population last summer. While on its face this agreement could be is a positive step, the Burma Human Rights Network urges further scrutiny and vigilance about this agreement and its implementation over the coming years.
It should be noted that Burma and the UN previously coordinated on repatriation efforts of the Rohingya following mass exoduses from military crackdowns in 1978 and 1991-92. Witnesses to these repatriations still speak of gross human rights abuses that have continued and worsened over the years. Precedents have been set to question Burma’s seriousness regarding the repatriation of the Rohingya and the UN’s ability to oversee such events on Burma’s terms.