A court in Myanmar on Monday charged two jailed Reuters journalists with obtaining secret state documents, moving the landmark press freedom case into its trial stage after six months of preliminary hearings.
Yangon district judge Ye Lwin charged reporters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, with breaching of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
Both journalists pleaded “not guilty” to the charges, telling the judge they had “followed journalistic ethics”.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Wa Lone said he and Kyaw Soe Oo had committed no crime and would testify to their innocence in court.
“We will face the court,” he said. “We will not retreat, give up or be shaken by this.”
Chief prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung left the courthouse before reporters were able to ask him questions.
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The case has attracted global attention. Some Western diplomats and rights groups say it is a test of progress towards full democracy under the administration of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in a country where the military still wields considerable influence.
Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said the news organization was “deeply disappointed” with the ruling and called the case against the reporters “baseless”.
“These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way, and there are no facts or evidence to suggest that they’ve done anything wrong or broken any law,” he said in a statement.
“Today’s decision casts serious doubt on Myanmar’s commitment to press freedom and the rule of law.”
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay has declined to comment throughout the proceedings, saying Myanmar’s courts are independent and the case would be conducted according to the law. He did not answer calls seeking comment after the court ruling on Monday.
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