12.21.17

Freedom of Press Caucus Urges Secretary Tillerson to Pressure Burma to Release Two Reuters Journalists

Washington, D.C. – Reps. Adam Schiff (CA-28) and Steve Chabot (OH-01), today along with six other colleagues from the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requesting that the State Department urge Burma to drop all charges and immediately release Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who could face up to 14 years in prison for their investigative journalism. Their reporting has extensively focused on the Rakhine State’s refugee crisis, where over 600,000 Rohingya, including at least 250,000 children, have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, as they sought refuge from assault, rape, and murder by Burmese state security forces. The journalists arrested have reportedly been charged for unlawful possession of military documents pertaining to the violence in Rakhine State.

In the letter, the eight members write: “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo arrest shows that the Burmese military is attempting to silence the atrocities it cannot deny. By helping to expose ongoing violence in Rakhine State – violence the Burmese military has denied – journalists have helped keep international pressure on Burma to end its violence. That is why we believe that press freedom is essential to ending this crisis and that working to free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will further American efforts to bring a resolution to the crisis. To that end, we ask you to use all available U.S. diplomatic tools to urge the Government of Burma to drop all charges and immediately release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.”

Schiff and Chabot were joined in the letter by six of their colleagues:  Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-14), Rep. Daniel M. Donovan, Jr. (NY-11), Rep. David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Rep. Barbara Comstock (VA-10), Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02) and Rep. Ted Lieu (CA-33). The full letter can be found below:

Dear Secretary Tillerson,

As Members of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, we are deeply troubled by the recent arrest in Burma of Reuters’ journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.  These arrests come amid a growing crackdown on press freedom, which is having a grave impact on the ability of journalists to cover Burma’s military persecution of the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

Both journalists have reported extensively on the Rakhine State’s refugee crisis, where over 600,000 Rohingya, including at least 250,000 children, have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, as they sought refuge from assault, rape, and murder by Burmese state security forces. The journalists arrested have reportedly been charged for unlawful possession of military documents pertaining to the violence in Rakhine State. They have put themselves at great personal risk to report on the Rohingya crisis and could face up to 14 years in prison for their investigative journalism.

We applaud the actions you have taken so far to help resolve the crisis in Burma, including providing humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh, correctly characterizing the violence against the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing, and a commitment to holding Burmese military officials accountable through U.S. law, including possible targeted sanctions.

As you know, the House has been actively engaged in seeking a resolution to the crisis as well. Earlier this month the House passed H.Con.Res. 90 with near-unanimous, bipartisan support to condemn the ethnic cleansing in Burma. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs is also considering the bipartisan the BURMA Act of 2017, which would enhance sanctions against those who violate human rights in Burma.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo arrest shows that the Burmese military is attempting to silence the atrocities it cannot deny. By helping to expose ongoing violence in Rakhine State – violence the Burmese military has denied – journalists have helped keep international pressure on Burma to end its violence. That is why we believe that press freedom is essential to ending this crisis and that working to free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will further American efforts to bring a resolution to the crisis. To that end, we ask you to use all available U.S. diplomatic tools to urge the Government of Burma to drop all charges and immediately release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.