REUTERS - Several countries, the United Nations and journalist groups are demanding the release of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from detention in Myanmar.
The reporters were arrested on Dec. 12 after being invited to meet police officials on the outskirts of Yangon. They had worked on stories about a military crackdown in Rakhine state, scene of around 650,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh since August.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Information has said the reporters “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media,” and released a photo of them in handcuffs.
It said the reporters and two policemen faced charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, though officials said they have not been charged. Their exact whereabouts are not known.
“We and their families continue to be denied access to them or to the most basic information about their well-being and whereabouts,” Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement calling for their immediate release.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are journalists who perform a crucial role in shedding light on news of global interest, and they are innocent of any wrongdoing,” he said.
Here are comments on their detention from governments, politicians, human rights groups and press freedom advocates around the world:
Two U.N. human rights experts called on Thursday for Myanmar to release the two reporters, saying it was putting Myanmar on a dangerous path by using the Official Secrets Act to criminalise journalism.
“Journalism is not a crime. These detentions are another way for the Government to censor information about the military’s role in Rakhine State and the humanitarian catastrophe taking place,” said Yanghee Lee and David Kaye, who are the U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar and on freedom of expression respectively.
- A spokeswoman for Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Wednesday: “Norway expects the Myanmar authorities to ensure the full protection of their rights and to release the journalists as quickly as possible.”
- Human Rights Watch said the detentions appeared to be “aimed at stopping independent reporting of the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said, “Their secret, incommunicado detention lays bare government efforts to silence media reporting on critical issues.”
- In Washington, the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for their immediate release. “This is outrageous,” said Senator Ben Cardin. “It just brings back the memory of the horrible practices with the repressive military rule.”
- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week the United States was “demanding their immediate release or information as to the circumstances around their disappearance.” On Tuesday, the State Department reiterated the U.S. demand for the reporters’ immediate release.
- Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat Chris Coons, leaders of the U.S. Senate Human Rights Caucus, said they were “gravely concerned” about the reporters’ arrests and that press freedom was critical to ensuring accountability for violence against the Rohingya. Democratic congressman Ted Lieu, a member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, called the arrests “outrageous and a direct attack on press freedom.”
- Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kano said in response to a question from a Reuters reporter on Tuesday, “Freedom of the press is extremely important, including in order to protect fundamental human rights. The Japanese government would like to watch (this matter) closely.” Tokyo-based Human Rights Now called on Japan on Wednesday to take a stronger stance.
- The European Union urged Myanmar on Monday to release the reporters “as quickly as possible.” A spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said, “Freedom of the press and media is the foundation and a cornerstone of any democracy.”
- U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said countries should do everything possible to secure the journalists’ release and press freedom in Myanmar. “It is clearly a concern in relation to the erosion of press freedom in the country,” he said.
- Britain, Holland, Canada and Sweden have demanded the release of the Reuters reporters. Australia has expressed concern and Bangladesh has denounced the arrests.
- Vijay Nambiar, former special adviser on Myanmar to the U.N. Secretary-General, said in a statement to Reuters on Monday that the detentions had caused “widespread disappointment within and outside the country that is likely to further damage the international reputation and image of Myanmar, already under stress as a result of its handling of the Rakhine crisis.”
- President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani called on Myanmar to protect media freedoms and release the reporters.
- The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called on Myanmar to immediately disclose the reporters’ whereabouts. “All detainees must be allowed prompt access to a lawyer and to family members,” Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, said on Monday.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists said the arrests were “having a grave impact on the ability of journalists to cover a story of vital global importance”.
- Reporters Without Borders said there was no justification for the arrests and the charges being considered against the journalists were “completely spurious”.
- Advocacy group Fortify Rights demanded Myanmar immediately and unconditionally release the Reuters journalists.
- Myanmar’s Irrawaddy online news site called on Dec. 14 for the journalists’ release in an editorial headlined “The Crackdown on the Media Must Stop.” It said “it is an outrage to see the Ministry of Information release a police record photo of reporters handcuffed – as police normally do to criminals – on its website soon after the detention. It is chilling to see that MOI has suddenly brought us back to the olden days of a repressive regime.”
- The Southeast Asian Press Alliance said the journalists were “only doing their jobs in trying to fill the void of information on the Rohingya conflict.”
- The Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists, local reporters who have demonstrated against prosecutions of journalists, decried the “unfair arrests that affect media freedom”.
- The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Myanmar said it was “appalled” by the arrests and “gravely concerned” about press freedom in Myanmar.
- The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Thailand, Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines, Jakarta Foreign Correspondents’ Club and Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong have issued statements supporting the journalists.
Compiled by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Angus MacSwan