News agencies said the reporters had been accused of violating Myanmar’s sweeping Official Secrets Act, which dates from 1923, when the country, also known as Burma, was under British rule. If so, the journalists could face up to 14 years in prison.
U Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council, an independent organization that advocates for the news media, said that between 80 and 90 percent of government documents were considered confidential or secret under the law.
“We are very concerned about the arrests of these two journalists,” he said. “Very few documents are public documents. We don’t have a freedom of information act in our country yet.”
He said that Parliament had considered modifying the law in 2014, but that the changes were opposed by the Home Affairs Ministry, which is under military control.
Reuters said that Wa Lone joined the news agency in June 2016 and has covered a range of stories, including the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine. Kyaw Soe Oo began working for Reuters in September.
Press advocates and human rights activists expressed concern that the arrests were part of a growing crackdown on press freedom in recent months.
In November, a judge sentenced two foreign journalists, their interpreter and their driver to two months in prison on charges of filming with a drone without official permission. The journalists, Mok Choy Lin, a Malaysian national, and Lau Hon Meng, a Singaporean citizen, were on assignment for TRT World, Turkey’s state broadcaster.
In June, the military arrested three journalists who had been reporting on an event organized by a rebel army in northern Shan State. The three were accused of violating another colonial-era law, against unlawful association. They were released after more than two months in custody.
“While the circumstances of the arrest of the two Reuters journalists remain unclear, their detention comes on the heels of the arrests of journalists in multiple parts of Burma under a variety of charges,” said Richard Weir, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.
“Three journalists arrested and later released in Shan State by the military earlier this year were merely arrested for doing their jobs,” he added. “Journalists across Burma have also come under increasing pressure for criticizing the government and military.”
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