Two journalists from news agency Reuters in Myanmar were sentenced to seven years imprisonment under the official secrets law for illegal possession of official documents. The two reporters, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone had been reporting on the crackdown by the Myanmar army on Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state.
The Official Secrets Act, under which the two reporters have been arrested, was created in 1923 by the British colonial government when Myanmar was Burma and a province of British India. The objective of the law was to criminalise the sharing of any kind of information held by the government.
The specific charges against the two reporters come from section 3 of the Act which deals with the people who have been accused of passing over information that could be ‘useful to an enemy’. “If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State, obtains, collects, records or publishes or communicates to any other person any secret official code or password, or any sketch, plan, model, article or note or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy,” says the Act. At the time of the enactment of the law, the British authorities were concerned about the consequences of rival powers seeking to exploit the anti-colonial agitation within the South Asian colony.
The Myanmar government has alleged that the two journalists acquired information illegally with the intention of passing it on to foreign media. The reporters who had been detained in December 2017, however, claim that the documents which they have been accused of obtaining illegally had been planted in their hands by a police officer in order to entrap them.