The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong calls for the immediate release of Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, two Myanmar journalists with the Reuters news agency who were arrested on Wednesday.
The pair have been charged under a section of the Official Secrets Act that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. The government has released a photograph of them wearing handcuffs with documents displayed before them.
Reuters has expressed its outrage over the arrest and accused Myanmar authorities of an attack on press freedom.
The US State Department has also voiced concern for the “safety and security of international reporters who are simply just trying to do their jobs”.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have both recently reported on the refugee crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where a deadly military “clearance operation” has resulted in more than 600,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh.
Their arrest is part of a deepening crackdown on freedom of expression in Myanmar, which is facing severe criticism from the international community for its handling of the Rohingya crisis.
Journalists have been banned from travelling independently to northern Rakhine to investigate the circumstances of the crackdown, and verify refugees’ accounts of murder, mass rape and burning of villages by security forces.
In November, two foreign journalists along with their interpreter and driver were sentenced to two months imprisonment for filming with a drone without official permission. And in June three journalists were detained in war-torn northern Shan state and spent two months in custody.
As Myanmar undertakes its transition to democracy, it is vital that the country respects the beneficial role of a free and independent media and ensures that journalists are able to do their work without threat of retaliation.
The arrest of these two Myanmar journalists under the Official Secrets Act is unacceptable and counterproductive in a country aiming to take its place in the international community after decades of military rule.