BANGKOK – Human Rights Watch called on Wednesday for the immediate release of two journalists who were arrested in Myanmar two weeks ago for allegedly possessing leaked documents relating to police operations in Rakhine State.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, who work for the Reuters news agency, were arrested on Dec. 12 in Yangon and face 14 years in jail if found guilty of violating official secrets legislation.
“Burmese authorities should immediately release the two Reuters journalists whose detentions appear aimed at stopping independent reporting of the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW.
“Their secret, incommunicado detention lays bare government efforts to silence media reporting on critical issues,” he added.
The two journalists have been accused of obtaining classified documents by deception from two policemen – also arrested and charged with similar crimes – who came back from Rakhine state after carrying out security duties.
HRW said authorities have not provided any information on the whereabouts of the arrested journalists and denied them access to counsel or family.
At least 626,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the offensive that the Myanmar army launched in August in response to a series of attacks on government posts by Rohingya rebels.
The army has denied abuse of Rohingyas during the campaign, despite several organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, describing it as ethnic cleansing.
Media and human rights organizations have also repeatedly denounced the climate of repression under which journalists work in Myanmar despite the return of democracy in 2016 after almost half a century of military dictatorship.
“The Burmese government’s increasing restrictions on the media should not be taken lightly and concerned governments should encourage the government to stop targeting journalists,” Adams said.
“If the government continues to ratchet-up the pressure on the independent press, media freedom in Aung San Suu Kyi’s Burma will look a lot more like the media repression during the military junta,” he added, referring to the Nobel peace prize laureate who heads the government.