The families of two Myanmar reporters for Reuters news agency who were arrested for allegedly violating Myanmar’s state secrets act said on Friday that authorities still have not informed them of the men’s whereabouts.
Thet Oo Maung, also known as Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested on Dec. 12 for violating Section 3 of the country’s Official Secrets Act by allegedly illegally acquiring government documents about security forces in northern Rakhine state where a military crackdown has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh.
The journalists were working on stories about the crackdown when authorities accused them of sending “important security documents regarding security forces in Rakhine state to foreign agencies abroad,” according to a government statement.
If found guilty, they could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.
“We haven’t had any contact from anybody,” said Pan Ei Mon, Thet Oo Maung’s wife, on Friday. “We don’t know where they are. We went to Htauk Kyant Police Station yesterday and requested to see them.”
She told RFA’s Myanmar Service that police searched the home of her husband’s parents on Wednesday.
“We’ve got no news about them,” Chit Su Ma, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, told RFA. “We don’t know where they are. We can’t see them.”
Pan Ei Mon said that police told the journalists' families that the men had been taken from Htauk Kyant Police Station in the commercial capital Yangon, where they were detained following their arrests.
“A police officer from that station said they had been taken away by a group of authorities on the first day, but they couldn’t identify which group it was,” she said.
“They could only say that the reporters are still alive and in good health,” she said. “They also said they will inform Reuters news agency when the reporters are transferred back to Htauk Kyant Police Station after the investigation is completed.”
On Wednesday, Pan Ei Mon said that Reuters had not provided any details about the arrests.
Two policemen taken into custody in connection with the incident have not been charged, Reuters reported on Friday.
‘They need to be released’
On Friday, the U.S. embassy in Myanmar issued a statement on its Facebook page that read: “We remain concerned about Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Their families and others have not been allowed to see them, and don’t even know where they are being held.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s spokesman said the Japanese government is closely watching the situation and is engaged in talks with Myanmar on the human rights situation there, Reuters reported.
The Bangladeshi government, which signed an agreement with Myanmar in November to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees, denounced the reporters’ arrests and called for their immediate release, the report said.
Senior European officials on Friday criticized the Myanmar government's arrest of the two journalists and called for their release.
“We will make it clear in the strongest possible terms that we feel that they need to be released at the earliest possible opportunity,” said Mark Field, Britain’s minister for Asia and the Pacific, according to Reuters.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström was quoted as saying that the arrests were a “threat to a democratic and peaceful development of Myanmar and that region.”
Meanwhile, the Yangon Journalism School cancelled a training program for media professionals from the Information Ministry “because of way the ministry wrote reports on the two detained reporters,” school founder Ye Naing Moe told RFA on Friday.
He added that the reports have destroyed the reporters’ reputations.
“Because of the arrests of the reporters, media professionals are fearful for their jobs, and their jobs have become very dangerous,” he said.
On Thursday, a dozen Myanmar media groups, the United Nations, the European Union, and international rights organizations condemned the arrests of Thet Oo Maung and Kyaw Soe Oo and called on the government to release them immediately.
The same day, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference in Tokyo that the detentions of the reporters were “clearly a concern in relation to the erosion of press freedom in the country,” according to Reuters.
By Waiyan Moe Myint and Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.