Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo Wa Lone are accused of possessing sensitive material linked to army operations in Rakhine state. The pair were working on the atrocities committed against Muslim Rohingya, of whom 700,000 have fled to Bangladesh.
Two Reuters reporters accused of breaking Myanmar's secrecy law during their reporting of a Rohingya massacre must face trial, a judge said on Monday, in a ruling swiftly decried as a "black day" for press freedom in the country.
Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in December and accused of possessing leaked sensitive material linked to security operations in crisis-hit Rakhine state, killing scores and displacing over 700,000 Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh.
The pair, who have been held in custody for nearly seven months of pre-trial hearings, were both "charged under the state secrets act," Judge Ye Lwin told the court in Yangon, setting a first court date for July 16.
If convicted the two could face up to 14 years in prison under the colonial-era law.
Reuters seeks dismissal of case
Reuters said the pair are innocent and were simply doing their job by reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims in September, and has urged the court to dismiss the case.
"These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way, and there are no facts or evidence to suggest that they’ve done anything wrong or broken any law," Stephen J Adler, Reuters president and editor-in-chief, said in a statement.
But Judge Ye Lwin decided the prosecution had shown enough proof that the men were "collecting evidence" from state officials to allow the case to proceed to trial.
The legal action against them has been lambasted by rights groups and foreign observers as an assault on media freedom and an effort to stifle reporting on the Rohingya crisis.
Rights groups slam ruling
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and free speech group Article 19 lambasted Monday's ruling.
"This is a black day for press freedom in Myanmar," said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International's director of crisis response, labelling the court decision "farcical" and "politically motivated."
Article 19 said the decision underscores Myanmar's "wide-ranging efforts to obstruct reporting on the Rakhine state crisis and to whitewash human rights violations by authorities."
EU says charges must be dropped
The European Union called on Myanmar to drop charges against the duo.
"The European Union expects the charges against the two journalists prosecuted for merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression and carrying out their jobs to be dropped and for them to be released immediately so they can be reunited with their families and resume their vital work." a spokesperson for the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.