Bangladesh frees Myanmar photojournalists after bail hearing

By AFP

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Bangladesh authorities Friday released two Myanmar photographers covering the Rakhine crisis for a German magazine after they were granted bail by a court, police and a lawyer said.

Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat were detained early this month in the border district of Cox’s Bazar, where more than 420,000 Rohingya have sought refuge from violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 25. 

Police have said they were arrested on suspicion of espionage — a charge rejected by the pair’s lawyers. 

“They were freed on bail,” a police inspector told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

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One of the pair’s lawyers, Jyotirmoy Barua, confirmed that the two were granted bail by a court of a judicial magistrate in Cox’s Bazar. 

It was not clear whether the two would be allowed to travel back to Myanmar. 

The lawyer said the two were charged with “false impersonation” and providing “false information” after police accused them of using tourist visas to enter the country, instead of journalist visas.

Cox’s Bazar police, however, earlier told AFP the pair were also “primarily accused of espionage”.

An award-winning photographer from Bangladesh also arrested with the pair was later freed.

Scores of foreign journalists have poured into Bangladesh’s southeast to cover the Rohingya exodus.

The UN has accused Buddhist-dominated Myanmar of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the stateless group.

Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat arrived in Cox’s Bazar in early September on assignment for Hamburg-based magazine Geo to cover the refugee crisis, which has strained relations between Muslim-majority Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The lawyer described Minzayar Oo as “an award winning photographer whose work was published in reputed dailies and magazines including the New York Times, Guardian and National Geographic”.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Bangladesh to release the photographers and drop all charges against them. 

“The Bangladeshi authorities should not criminalise covering a major world story,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said last week.

“Both local and international journalists reporting on the Rohingya story must be allowed to work freely,” he said.

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