Two journalists working for Reuters were arrested on Tuesday in Myanmar for attempting to report on the crackdown by security forces against the Muslim-minority Rohingya in Rakhine State, the news agency reported.
Reuters said they received confirmation on Wednesday that the journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were taken into custody on Tuesday evening after they had gone for a dinner meeting they had scheduled with two police officials in the city of Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital.
Both the journalists and the police who were allegedly working with the pair are being detained, a spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar who carries the title of state counsellor, confirmed to Reuters in a phone call.
“Not only your reporters, but also the policemen who were involved in that case. We will take action against those policemen and also the reporters,” the spokesman, Zaw Htay, was quoted as saying.
A statement on the Facebook page of Myanmar’s ministry of information explained that both the journalists and policemen face charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
The post, which included an accompanying photo of the journalists in handcuffs, went on to say that the accused had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”.
During an interview with the New York Times, U Myint Kyaw, an advocate for freedom of the press in Myanmar, explained that between 80% and 90% of the documents in the country are considered to be confidential.
If the journalists are found guilty of sharing what the government considers to be ‘confidential’ documents, they could face a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, Kyaw said, according to the New York Times.
Reuters has said that the first piece of information they received about the journalists arrests came after a text was sent from Wa Lone’s phone saying, “I have been arrest [sic].”
The agency then had journalists who were also working in the same region file two missing persons reports after unsuccessfully trying to reach their phones, which appeared to have been turned off.
President and editor in chief of Reuters Stephen J. Adler was quoted by his news organisation as being “outraged” at the arrest of his employees, adding that it was a “blatant attack on press freedom”.
“We call for the authorities to release them immediately,” Adler said, according to Reuters.
Wa Lone, 31, and Soe Oo, 27, have been covering the Rohingya crisis, and other regionals issues, for Reuters for since at least September of this year.
In August, Myanmar’s security forces launched a clampdown on Muslim-minority Rohingya, accusing them of staging attacks on police stations. More than 500,000 Rohingya have fled their homes and sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh in what is Southeast Asia’s biggest humanitarian crisis in recent times.