YANGON — The United States has demanded the “immediate” release of two Reuters journalists detained in Yangon on December 12, amid a growing chorus of international criticism over their arrest and its circumstances.
The US was demanding “the immediate release” of the pair “or information as to the circumstances around their disappearance,” Secretary of State Mr Rex Tillerson said at the United Nations in New York on December 15.
The release of the journalists has also been demanded by the UN, Britain, Sweden, Bangladesh and by media organisations in Myanmar and overseas.
The international community must do all it can to have the journalists’ released, UN Secretary-General Mr Antonio Guterres said on December 14, saying the case was an example of the “erosion of press freedom” in Myanmar.
Guterres said the probable reason for the pair’s arrest was because they were working on stories about the “massive human tragedy” in Rakhine State.
Ko Wa Lone, 31, and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, went missing late on December 12 after being invited to meet police officials over dinner at Yangon’s outer northern Mingaladon Township.
As of December 15, Reuters had not been formally contacted by officials about the detention of the reporters. The Ministry of Information has said that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media,” and released a photo of the pair in handcuffs.
In a December 13 statement, Reuters president and Editor-in-Chief Mr Stephen Adler called for the immediate release of the journalists, saying that the global news organisation was “outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom.”
The Ministry of Information said on December 13 that the reporters and two policemen faced charges under the colonial-era Burma Official Secrets Act, though officials later disclosed that they were yet to be charged. The 1923 law carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Tillerson said on December 15 that the US embassy in Yangon was
“expressing our concerns over the detention of individuals, demanding their immediate release or information as to the circumstances around their disappearance.”
In a statement on its Facebook page on December 15 the embassy said: “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.”
Earlier on December 15 at the UN, Britain’s Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Mr Mark Field, said, “We will make it clear in the strongest possible terms that we feel that they need to be released at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also called for the reporters’ unconditional release, saying, “These arrests come amid a widening crackdown which is having a grave impact on the ability of journalists to cover a story of vital global importance.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Ms Margot Wallstrom said the arrests were a “threat to a democratic and peaceful development of Myanmar and that region”.
“We do not accept that journalists are attacked or simply kidnapped or that they disappear,” Wallstrom told reporters at the UN.