Reuters reporters take photo together to support colleagues sentenced in Myanmar; Singapore police say it’s illegal

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Photo: @AurindomM/Twitter

Singapore Reuters reporters took a photo together holding “#FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo” signs to support their colleagues, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were recently sentenced in Myanmar for breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. The photo, which was posted on Twitter by Aurindom Mukherjee, Reuters Asia’s social media editor, got the attention of the Singapore Police Force.

On Monday, September 3, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were given 7 years of hard labor by a Yangon judge for working fervently on an investigation that would bring to light the tragic massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Inn Din, a Rakhine state village in nothern Myanmar, which occurred while questionable military operations (genocide, according to investigators at the UN) were taking place.

The Myanmar government has claimed that the case is not related to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting on the massacre, but that they are being held accountable for possession of Myanmar state secrets.

“They tried many times to get their hands on secret documents and pass them to others. They did not behave like normal journalists,” said Judge Ye Lwin, defending his verdict.

The case is currently making people question the judicial process in Myanmar and the meaning of freedom of the press.

Elsewhere, Reuters journalists have banded together, taking group photos with  “#FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo” signs to show solidarity for their fellow reporters. Reporters from the Japan, London, China and Hong Kong offices have also posted their support photos, but Singapore’s photo was the only one that got the police talking.

Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong’s photos:

Japan’s photo:

London’s photo:

The New Paper reported that the Singapore Police Force have labeled the photo as a “public assembly without a police permit,” emphasizing that under the Public Order Act, it is against the law in Singapore for a public gathering to take place without police endorsement. First-timer offenders can expect fines up to S$5,000, and those who do it again get fined up to S$10,000 and undergo jail time of up to six months.

Under Singapore’s Public Order Act, this sort of assembly is illegal. The act defines assembly as “a gathering or meeting (whether or not comprising any lecture, talk, address, debate or discussion) of persons the purpose (or one of the purposes) of which is — a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government; b) to publicize a cause or campaign; or c) to mark or commemorate any event.”

The police, according to the report by The New Paper, are “aware” of what is going on and are planning to “engage” with Reuters soon regarding the controversial picture. We are not sure what that means, but it seems farfetched to liken a quick group photo to a protest or to illegal activity, and people seem to agree, taking to Twitter to air their opinions.