Today at his regular pen and pad session with reporters on Capitol Hill, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, distributed the below fact sheet about imprisoned Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, in Burma. Cardin called for their immediate release. He also took the opportunity to make the following statement about broader press freedom issues:
“I want to acknowledge that there has been a real, serious attack against the independence of journalists globally, and the safety of journalists globally. These are serious issues in many parts of the world. I hope that by my putting a spotlight on the situation in Burma, more people will focus on protecting the independence of journalists and allowing them to report on what is happening. I would also call on President Trump to end his irresponsible attacks on the independence of media here in the United States.”
On December 2, 2017, two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested after being invited to meet with police officials for dinner. Both reporters had been reporting on the military crackdown on the Rohingya minority. The Ministry of Information has said that the reporters “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media,” in violation of the country’s Official Secrets Act, a colonial era law which if applied broadly, allows journalists to be prosecuted at any time. Under the law, the president’s office must also approve before court proceedings can begin and on Monday, December 18, Burma’s civilian President, Htin Kyaw, authorized the police to proceed with the case.
On November 2nd, 15 Senators, led by Senators Cardin and McCain, introduced S.2060, the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017, which seeks to impose targeted sanctions and visa restrictions on key senior Burmese military officials and hold them accountable for human rights abuses. On October 24, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Full Committee hearing on Burma, Senator Cardin was one of the first U.S. Senators to label the Rohingya crisis a genocide.
Senator Cardin continued:
“The arrest and continued detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are an attack on press freedom and democracy in Burma. The decision by Burmese authorities to abuse a colonial-era law to arrest these reporters harkens back to the dark days of repressive military rule and further underscores the need for serious legal reform in the country. I call on the Burmese government to immediately release both reporters and allow them access to their lawyers and families.
“In this era of disinformation, attacks on the press and blatant disregard for professional journalism have become all too commonplace. Just last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that the number of journalists imprisoned for their work hit a new record this year. A free press provides a check on government leaders and catalyzes better governance. We must do more to defend the rights of journalists, to report the news uncensored, and hold those who seek to stop them accountable.”