The spokesman for Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy party on Monday described as “entrapment” the arrests of two domestic reporters with Reuters news agency accused of violating the state secrets act by possessing documents about the crisis in Rakhine state.
“It is not good for them to be arrested in this manner; I think it was entrapment,” said Win Htein, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee for which he serves as official spokesperson, following a meeting with party members in eight townships of the Naypyidaw region.
“Authorities said the secret documents and papers were found on the reporters,” he told members of the media. “They received these from the policemen who were having launch with them, and they were arrested with these papers soon after the police left.”
Win Htein’s comments conflicted with those made by Zaw Htay, spokesman for Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a day earlier. Zaw Htay said that the Ministry of Home Affairs submitted the arrest case to President Htin Kyaw, who issued an approval for police to proceed, Reuters reported.
Police arrested Thet Oo Maung, also known as Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, 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 into 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 spend up to 14 years in prison.
Win Htein said it is obvious that the charges against the reporters had been planned, and that lawyers and other experts must work for their release with the support of pressure from the international community.
When journalists asked Information Minister Pe Myint about the detained reporters, he said he wasn’t well informed about their arrests and would reply when he had further details, though it was his ministry that issued a statement about the pair after they had been arrested.
“I can only say what we would do for them only after I know well enough about the case,” he said.
“We have been helping reporters when they have difficulties,” Pe Myint said. “We have worked on behalf of reporters in the past, present, and on this case as well. We will do what we should do when we know the details about this case.”
It was Pe Myint’s Information Ministry that announced last week’s arrests.
Authorities have not yet informed the reporters' families of their whereabouts, though they have said that the two are alive and in good health.
Myanmar media groups, the United Nations, the European Union, the U.S. embassy in Myanmar, and international rights organizations have condemned the arrests of Thet Oo Maung and Kyaw Soe Oo and called on the government to release them immediately.
The arrests of the two reporters are the latest in a string of detentions of and lawsuits against journalists in Myanmar since de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian-led NLD party came to power in April 2016.
Rights groups and Myanmar journalists say authorities under the current government are increasingly using the colonial-era Official Secrets Act of 1923 and the Unlawful Associations Act of 1908 to silence their critics and suppress political opposition, often in the case of ethnic minority groups.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated By Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.