LONDON/GENEVA (Reuters) – Britain’s foreign minister and United Nations human rights rapporteurs separately called on Thursday for the release of two Reuters reporters detained in Myanmar, after a judge rejected a request for their case to be dismissed.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Twitter that Myanmar must show its “commitment to media freedom” while the U.N. special rapporteurs said in a joint statement that the pursuit of the case against Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, gave rise to “grave concern for investigative journalism”.
A Myanmar government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
A court in Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings since January to decide whether the journalists will be charged for possessing secret government papers under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
Judge Ye Lwin rejected on Wednesday a defence request to dismiss the case against the two reporters, who have been held since December, for lack of evidence. The judge said he wanted to hear the eight remaining prosecution witnesses out of the 25 listed, according to defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw.
On Tuesday, seven Myanmar soldiers were sentenced to 10 years “with hard labor in a remote area” for participating in a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in northwestern Rakhine state last September, the army said.
Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar, and David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, noted the journalists could be sentenced to longer terms if found guilty.
“The perpetrators of a massacre that was, in part, the subject of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting have been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. And yet these two reporters face a possible 14 years imprisonment. The absurdity of this trial and the wrongfulness of their detention and prosecution are clear,” they said in a joint statement.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the U.N..
The country’s ambassador to the U.N., Hau Do Suan, said last month that the journalists were not arrested for reporting a story, but were accused of “illegally possessing confidential government documents”.
An army crackdown, unleashed in response to Rohingya militant attacks on security forces in August, has been beset by allegations of murder, rape, arson and looting. The U.N. and United States described it as ethnic cleansing – an accusation which Myanmar denies.
Nearly 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Rakhine state and crossed into southern Bangladesh since then.
After the U.N. experts made their comments, Johnson took to Twitter on the case. “Very disappointed to hear Burmese @Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are now to face trial,” he said. “Reiterate my calls for their release: Burmese authorities must show their commitment to media freedom.”
At this stage the prosecutor is trying to persuade the court to file charges. The preliminary proceedings are still underway and only after they are completed is the court expected to decide whether to send the two reporters to trial.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and William James; editing by David Stamp)
By Oswaldo Rivas
MANAGUA (Reuters) – Anti-government protests in Nicaragua entered a fifth day on Sunday as the death toll from the violence rose and looting was reported in some areas, aggravating the crisis around longstanding President Daniel Ortega.
The Red Cross said at least seven people had died and hundreds had been injured in the demonstrations, while a local human rights organization said it had registered 25 deaths.
The protests began on Wednesday over plans to increase worker contributions to social security and lower pensions, and some stores in Managua were looted over the weekend, Reuters witnesses said. At least two protest marches were planned in Managua on Sunday.
Late on Saturday, local media said a reporter was shot and killed during a live broadcast from Bluefields, a town on the Caribbean coast hit by the unrest. Graphic footage of the incident soon spread onto local and social media.
The police crackdown on demonstrators and curbs on some media in the past few days have fueled broader criticism of Ortega, who has gradually tightened his hold on the country’s institutions since he returned to power over 11 years ago.
The U.S. State Department on Sunday called for “broad-based dialogue” to end the dispute and “restore respect” for human rights, urging the government to let the media operate freely.
“We condemn the violence and the excessive force used by police and others against civilians who are exercising their … right to freedom of expression and assembly,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in statement.
Lissett Guido, a Red Cross spokeswoman, said there were seven confirmed deaths and that the number would likely rise. The government had reported “almost 10” by late on Friday.
Marlin Sierra, director of human rights organization CENIDH, said it had logged 25 deaths, mostly caused by firearms and rubber bullets. That number could not be independently verified. Most of the dead were aged between 15 and 34, she said.
Pope Francis called on Sunday for an end to the violence in Nicaragua and called for differences to be “resolved peacefully and with a sense of responsibility.”
Videos and photos posted on Nicaraguan media showed people standing ready to defend their stores, while others formed lines to stock up on gasoline and food in case of shortages.
Nicaragua has been one of the more stable countries in Central America, largely avoiding the turmoil caused by gang violence or political upheaval that has at times plagued Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in recent years.
But top Nicaraguan business lobby COSEP has backed peaceful protests against the government, and said it would not enter talks with Ortega to review the social security plan until he had ended police repression and restored freedom of expression.
A former Marxist guerrilla and Cold War antagonist of the United States, Ortega has presided over a period of stable growth with a blend of socialist policies and capitalism.
But critics accuse Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, of trying to establish a family dictatorship. The country remains one of the poorest in the Americas.
Ortega was a driving force in the overthrow of one of Latin America’s most notorious regimes when his Sandinistas ended the Somoza dynasty’s long rule of the country in 1979.
He was elected president in 1984, but a civil war, which pitted the Sandinistas against U.S.-backed right wing Contra rebels, hurt his popularity, and he was voted out in 1990.
Not until a 2006 election did Ortega reclaim the presidency.
Now 72, he has maintained an uneasy relationship with the United States, toning down his Cold War rhetoric but forging close ties with U.S. adversaries such as the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro.
(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)
By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) – A nearly nude gunman killed at least four people at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee early on Sunday and then fled after a patron saved lives by wrestling the assault-style rifle from his hands.
The suspected shooter, identified by authorities as Travis Reinking, 29, was still at large and murder warrants were being issued for him, the Metropolitan Nashville Police said.
Reinking, of Morton, Illinois was believed to live near the restaurant. The gunman’s vehicle was registered to him and a shirtless man wearing pants believed to be Reinking was spotted in woods nearby, police said.
The gunman, who was naked but for a green jacket, first shot and killed two people in the parking lot of the restaurant in Antioch, a section of southeast Nashville, shortly before 3:30 a.m. (0830 GMT).
He then entered the restaurant and opened fire, police said, killing one patron and wounding another, who later died.
One diner, named by local media as James Shaw Jr., 29, who had hidden near the restrooms, dashed out and pulled the rifle from the gunman.
“The shots had stopped so he decided to rush the gunman, actually wrestled that assault rifle away, tossed it over the counter and, at that point, the gunman fled,” said police spokesman Don Aaron.
Shaw’s fast actions were credited with saving lives, but in an interview with the Tennessean newspaper he dismissed the idea that he was hero.
“It feels selfish,” said Shaw, who added that he had been getting a snack with friends after a fraternity house party. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”
Shaw suffered non-life-threatening wounds including an injured elbow, while other patrons suffered facial wounds from shattered glass. He said he did not pursue the fleeing gunman for fear he had another weapon.
As the shooter ran off he discarded the jacket, which contained additional ammunition, according to police.
Police cautioned that the suspect was to be considered still armed and extremely dangerous.
Two people wounded in the shooting are at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. One is in critical condition and the other is in critical but stable condition, said hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel.
(Additional reporting by Rich McKay and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and James Dalgleish)