United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday condemned the arrest of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar and urged the international community to do all it can to secure their release.
Guterres described their arrest as “symptomatic of eroding freedoms” in the country. “And probably the reason why these journalists were arrested is because they were reporting on what they have seen in relation to this massive human tragedy,” the secretary-general told reporters in Tokyo.
On Thursday, the European Parliament had asked Myanmar to release the journalists, who were arrested under the Official Secrets Act. Antonio Tajani, president of the Parliament, called on Myanmarese authorities to protect human rights and press freedom, Reuters reported.
“I hope the authorities in Myanmar will free them as soon as possible,” Tajani, a former journalist, said at an EU summit in Brussels. “Light should be shed on this case and human rights and press freedom should be respected.”
On Wednesday, Myanmar had announced that the journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, had been arrested as they had documents related to the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state. The reporters “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”, Reuters quoted a statement by Myanmar’s Ministry of Information.
Reuters confirmed that the two were working on stories about a military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, which the United Nations has called “ethnic cleansing”.
The charges under which the journalists were arrested carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
The US Embassy in Myanmar said it was “deeply concerned” about the arrests, AFP reported. “For a democracy to succeed, journalists need to be able to do their jobs freely,” it said in a statement.
Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said: “We are outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom. We call for authorities to release them immediately.”