Friends pray for detained journalists

YANGON – Friends of Reuters reporter Wa Lone gathered at one of the main Buddhist pagodas in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon to pray for his release from prison, where he has been held with a colleague on suspicion of violating the Official Secrets Act.

Journalists Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were detained on December 12. They had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from a fierce military crackdown on militants.

The two are due to appear in court on Wednesday. It will be their second appearance in court and the prosecutor could request that charges are filed against them.

“We miss him and want him to be free,” said Thant Zin Soe, among a group of about a dozen of Wa Lone’s friends who knelt beneath the Sule Pagoda’s towering golden stupa, hands clasped before then, to chant a special Buddhist mantra. “We believe this mantra will set them free, that’s why we’re reciting it.”

In Myanmar, which is still in transition after almost half a century of strict military rule, shows of support for journalists and others who run afoul of the authorities are not common.

Last week, a government spokesman, when asked about a campaign of support for the two reporters on social media, said people should not undertake such efforts while a case was being heard in court.

Thant Zin Soe said he did not want to comment on the circumstances of the reporters’ arrest, except to say: “It’s not a good thing to hear that a reporter got arrested doing his job.”

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