Arrested Reuters journalists appear at Myanmar court hearing

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Section 3 covers entering prohibited places, taking images or handling secret official documents that "might be or is meant to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy".

In a statement, Stephen J. Adler, the president and editor in chief of Reuters, called the move to prosecute the reporters "a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom", adding, "We believe time is of the essence and we continue to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's prompt release".

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act when they appeared in court on Wednesday.

The charges brought against them could carry a penalty of up to 14 years behind bars.

The Official Secrets Act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar, then known as Burma, was a province of British India.

It is a case that highlights growing concerns about press freedom in the country.

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"They arrested us and took action against us because were were trying to reveal the truth", Wa Lone said, according to Reuters. It called for the journalists to be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar.

The officers had worked in Rakhine state, where abuses widely blamed on Myanmar's military have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

The pair was arrested after they were invited to have dinner with police officers, when the officers handed them documents, family members said. "The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately".

The family of Wa Lone has sent a letter to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the detention of the two journalists and are hoping for a response from the country's de facto civilian leader.

"We therefore call on your government to provide the necessary legal protection for these two journalists, to ensure the full respect of their fundamental rights and to release them immediately", he said.

It touches both on shrinking press freedom and the Rohingya crisis, two issues that have raised questions about the country's ability to shake off the legacy of junta rule.

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The United States Embassy also weighed in on the situation, calling for the journalists to be released.

Outside the courtroom, dozens of journalists dressed in black rallied in support of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, some carrying signs proclaiming "Journalism is not a crime".

"Journalists should ... be able to work in a free and enabling environment without fear of intimidation or undue arrest or prosecution", he said.

Family members of the journalists, who were present at the court, told a news conference late previous year that police may have fabricated a case for their arrest.

Authorities have blocked most media access to the north of Rakhine State, where Rohingya militant attacks on the security forces on August 25 sparked the military crackdown.

The case and those of at least 32 other journalists charged, mostly under draconian colonial-era laws, since Suu Kyi was swept into power at historic elections in 2016 on a wave of democratic euphoria, shows the army has returned to the same treachery it used to intimidate the media under decades of military rule.

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