TWO JOURNALISTS who have been covering the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State of Burma (Myanmar) have been arrested and face up to 14 years of imprisonment under the country’s Colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
Burmese authorities on Wednesday night confirmed the arrest of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who had been missing since Tuesday night. They are being detained at a police station on the outskirts of Burma’s largest city Yangon.
Local publication Frontier first broke the story, reporting that police had accepted criminal charges filed by a military officer under the 1923 Official Secrets Act. They could face 14 years’ jailtime for “unlawful possession of military documents”, reported Frontier.
Both journalists have been covering the military’s so-called “clearing operations” in Rakhine State, which has seen the exodus of almost 650,000 Rohingya Muslims flee into neighbouring Bangladesh since Aug 25.
The Tatmadaw army of Burma has been widely accused of mass atrocities against the Rohingya including arson, extrajudicial killings and rape.
A statement from Burma’s Information Ministry’s Facebook page said that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media.” They were reportedly arrested after being invited by police officers to have dinner.
The United States Embassy in Yangon immediately issued a statement in which it said the government was “deeply concerned” by the “highly irregular arrests” of the reporters.
“For a democracy to succeed, journalists need to be able to do their jobs freely. We urge the government to explain these arrests and allow immediate access to the journalists,” said the embassy.
“Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been reporting on events of global importance in Myanmar, and we learned today that they have been arrested in connection with their work,” said Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler in a statement.
“We are outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom. We call for authorities to release them immediately.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for the reporters’ immediate and unconditional release.
“These arrests come amid a widening crackdown which is having a grave impact on the ability of journalists to cover a story of vital global importance,” said CPJ’s representative in Southeast Asia Shawn Crispin.
Reuters reported that a spokesman for State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi said the government would “take action” against both the reporters and the policemen involved in the case.