Reuters demands Myanmar release its 2 journalists


Myanmar's government said Wednesday that it had arrested two journalists working for the Reuters news agency for possessing "important secret papers" obtained from two police officers who had worked in Rakhine state, where violence widely blamed on security forces has forced more than 625,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.

The Official Secrets Act carries a maximum punishment of 14 years in prison for the unlawful possession of military documents.

Wa Lone and Moe Aung (also known as U Thet Oo Maung and Kyaw Soe Oo respectively) were arrested in northern Yangon Tuesday night, after meeting with two policemen who had recently served in Rakhine State.

A photo of the two reporters standing behind a table displaying documents, phones, and money has been posted to the Ministry of Information's Facebook page.

He did not say why the journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, had been arrested, provide details of the action they faced or explain what case he was referring to. "We call for authorities to release them immediately", he said.

Reuters has not yet informed the Myanmar Press Council about the arrests, said Myint Kyaw, a member of the organization which investigates and settles press disputes and protects media employees in Myanmar.

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The Reuters president and editor-in-chief, Stephen Adler, said: "We are outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom".

"For a democracy to succeed, journalists need to be able to do their jobs freely", officials said.

Wa Lone joined Reuters in 2016 and had since covered the Rohingya Muslims exodus.

The United Nations and the global community have been accusing Myanmar of human rights violations allegedly committed by the country's security forces against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine, causing more than 620,000 of them to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in recent months.

In November, a judge sentenced two foreign journalists, their interpreter and their driver to two months in prison on charges of filming with a drone without official permission.

In June, three Burmese journalists were arrested for reporting on a drug-burning event by a rebel army in the north Shan state, Reuters reported. The three were accused of violating another colonial-era law, against unlawful association.