December 15, 2017 / 4:12 PM / 3 months ago

European officials criticise Myanmar government arrest of Reuters journalists

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Senior European officials on Friday criticized the Myanmar government’s arrest of two Reuters journalists and called for their release.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information said on Wednesday that the reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and two policemen, faced charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act, though officials have since disclosed that they have not been charged. The 1923 law carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

“I absolutely strongly disapprove of the idea of journalists, going about their everyday business, being arrested,” British Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field told reporters at the United Nations.

“We will make it clear in the strongest possible terms that we feel that they need to be released at the earliest possible opportunity,” Field said.

Swedish Foreign Minister 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 United Nations.

“To be able to send journalists to this particular area is of crucial importance,” she added.

The journalists had worked on stories about a military crackdown in Rakhine state, which has triggered the flight of more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to southern Bangladesh since the end of August.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo went missing on Tuesday evening after they had been invited to meet police officials over dinner on the northern outskirts of Yangon.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh say their exodus from the mainly Buddhist nation was triggered by a military offensive in response to Rohingya militant attacks on security forces.

The United Nations has branded the military’s campaign “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” of the minority Rohingya.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Writing by Yara Bayoumy

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