Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Bangladeshi authorities to act judiciously in the case of two Burmese journalists held on spying charges in the southeastern city of Cox’s Bazar. They were arrested a week ago while on assignment for the German magazine GEO to cover the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Photo-journalist Minzayar Oo and his assistant Hkun Lat are facing the possibility of being jailed for five years for trying to cover the crisis resulting from the exodus of around 400,000 Muslim Rohingyas from neighbouring Myanmar since late August.
They were arrested on 7 September although the police did not report their detention until Friday. After their arrest, they were taken to the capital, Dhaka, for secret interrogation and were then returned to Cox’s Bazar.
The police said the charges against them include spreading “false information” and “false impersonation” because they entered Bangladesh on tourist visas rather than as journalists – charges described as relatively minor by their lawyer, Jyotirmoy Barua.
But they are also charged with spying because, according to the Cox’s Bazar police chief, they were “collecting information on the Rohingya for Myanmar.” This carries a possible five-year jail sentence.
“We are very disturbed by the spying charge, which is not based on any evidence and is probably due to factors that have nothing to do with these two journalists,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Their professionalism is unanimously recognized and they were just trying to do their job by documenting the region’s acute crisis.”
A request for their release on bail was rejected yesterday. Meanwhile, they have not been able to see their lawyer. RSF calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to respect the rule of law in their handling of the case.
Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.