Prosecutors in Myanmar charged two journalists from the Reuters news agency Wednesday with violating the Official Secrets Act, signaling the case will go forward despite international condemnation. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested Dec. 12 after police accused them of violating the colonial-era law by acquiring "important secret papers" from two policemen, per the AP. The police officers had worked in Rakhine state, where security forces are blamed for rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims that sparked the exodus of some 650,000 people to Bangladesh. Dozens of journalists wearing black waited outside the court to protest the arrest of their colleagues, who were led into the court smiling and giving the thumbs-up sign despite handcuffs on their wrists.
"This is unacceptable," Wa Lone said from the back of a police truck after the brief hearing. "I want to tell you that they are charging us like this to stop us [from] finding the truth. Their actions are wrong and unfair." The journalists' lawyer said the prosecutor formally indicted the pair and they now face up to 14 years in prison if convicted. Rights and media groups have criticized Myanmar's new civilian government, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for continuing to use colonial-era laws to threaten and imprison journalists. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the arrests showed how press freedom is deteriorating in Myanmar, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for their immediate release. (Read more Myanmar stories.)