By ANN Desk
Asia News Network
Myanmar police have charged two Reuters reporters covering the Rohingya crisis with violating the Official Secrets Act, Yangon-based Eleven Media reports.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, are accused of sending classified information they gleaned from security officials in Yangon who had just returned from Rakhine state, where a military crackdown has sent more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh. Foreign media have been barred from entering the conflict zones in northern Rakhine, where the UN and other international agencies say a campaign of ethnic cleansing is under way against the Rohingya involving rape and murder by Myanmar troops.
Eleven Media reports that in Yangon action will also be taken against Reuters’ contacts, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing and Police Sergeant Khin Maung Lin.
Authorities seized reports on fighting in Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township from Wa Lone, and a sketch of a police outpost from Moe Aung.
The US Embassy in Myanmar said it was “deeply concerned” about the arrests.
“For a democracy to succeed, journalists need to be able to do their jobs freely,” it said in a statement.
Reuters said it was “outraged” by the arrests and accused authorities of attacking press freedoms, as the US voiced concern over the detentions.
Rights groups have recorded worsening freedom of expression since Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2016 after decades of military rule.
The number of online defamation cases has climbed steeply compared to the previous junta administration, with activists and journalists targeted.
Free Expression Myanmar reported on Monday that every case has so far has ended with a guilty verdict and a prison sentence.
Dublin councillors on Wednesday voted to revoke the Freedom of the City award given to Suu Kyi to protest her handling of violence against Rohingya Muslims, AFP reports. Suu Kyi has faced international criticism for her apparent failure to defend the Rohingya minority, in a dramatic fall from grace for the Nobel Peace laureate who spent years under house arrest in Myanmar.
Bangladesh and Myanmar last month reached a deal to repatriate Rohingya refugees, although the United Nations has said conditions are not safe for their return.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that life has stopped in its tracks in Rakhine state where an estimated 180,000 Rohingya remain, fearful of further violence.
Dominik Stillhart, ICRC director of operations told Reuters that continuing tensions in the Muslim and dominant Buddhist communities were preventing Muslim traders from reopening shops and markets. Stillhart was speaking after a three-day mission to the area with one of the only aid agencies still operating in northern Rakhine.
About 300 Muslims still flee daily, he added, citing UN figures.