In the absence of hard evidence justifying their detention, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of two Reuters news agency journalists who have been held for the past two days in Yangon for allegedly violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act.
After the two journalists, Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were reported missing on the evening of 12 December, the government said in a statement the next day that they had been arrested for planning “to send important security documents regarding security forces in Rakhine state to foreign agencies abroad."
They are facing up to 14 years in prison under the Official Secrets Act.
"We call for the immediate release of these two Reuters reporters,"said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk. "The charges announced by the government's spokesman are completely spurious. No detail has been provided about the supposed 'security documents' or the mysterious 'foreign agencies.' These arrests are clearly another attempt by the authorities to intimidate overly curious journalists."
In a grotesque piece of staging, a photo accompanying the government's statement showed the two journalists standing handcuffed behind a table covered with documents.
Rakhine State has been a focus of international media attention since August because Burmese army operations there have driven more than 620,000 members of Myanmar's Rohingya minority to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. The army has refused to allow journalists into the troubled region, where its operations may have involved "elements of genocide," the United Nations said on 5 December.
The formation of a civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi raised hopes of a significant improvement in respect for media freedom but, in practice, little progress has been seen and Myanmar is still ranked no higher than 131st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.