(Reuters) - Many nations, including the United States, Canada and several European countries, as well as top United Nations and EU officials are among those calling for the release of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from detention in Myanmar.
The reporters were arrested on Dec. 12, after being invited to meet police officials on the outskirts of Yangon, and accused of violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
They had worked on stories about a military crackdown in Rakhine state, from where nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled since August and sought refuge in Bangladesh, according to the United Nations.
During an appearance on Tuesday at the Insein district court in Yangon, a police officer who was part of the team that arrested the pair testified that he had burned the notes he made at the time, but did not say why he had done so.
An application for bail by the two reporters was declined at a previous court hearing.
Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler has called for the journalists’ prompt release.
“We believe the court proceedings will demonstrate their innocence and Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will be able to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar,” he said in a statement.
Here are comments on their detention from governments, politicians, human rights groups, journalists and press freedom advocates around the world:
- U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the two Reuters journalists remained imprisoned for pursuing a story about previously unreported mass graves in Rakhine State.
“Independent reporting like theirs highlights the urgent need for Burmese authorities to cooperate with an independent and credible investigation into any allegations of atrocities in Rakhine,” Haley said in a statement. “A free press is one of the foundations of democracy and human rights. Journalists must never be arrested for doing their jobs. We call on the Burmese authorities to free these reporters and cooperate fully with an independent investigation into the atrocities taking place in their country.”
- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the international community “to do whatever it can” to secure the release of the two Reuters journalists.
“The Secretary-General has expressed his concern at the erosion of the press freedom in Myanmar and he has called for the international community to do whatever it can to secure the release of the journalists and to ensure press freedom in the country,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said last week.
- United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville also called last week for the accusations against the journalists to be dropped, saying: “We are alarmed by the serious erosion of freedom of expression in Myanmar.”
- The Norwegian embassy in Myanmar has called for the immediate release of the reporters. “Journalists must be able to do their job without fear, intimidation and prosecution,” the embassy said in a post on its Facebook page.
- The Danish embassy in Myanmar has also demanded the immediate release of the two Reuters journalists.
- Shawn Crispin, Senior Southeast Asia Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote on Twitter last week: “Myanmar must stop blocking news coverage of the Rohingya tragedy in Rakhine state. Set them free now.”
- Surakiart Sathirathai, the head of a new international advisory panel on the Rohingya crisis, said in an interview last week that he and other panel members had been “reassured again and again that the case would be accorded with the due process of law and criminal justice procedure”.
Surakiart said last month that the panel could not intervene in the case.
- AAPP, a Thailand-based group working to free political prisoners in Myanmar, said last week in a Twitter message: “Denying bail for Reuters Journalists after arrest under colonial era law further erodes the right to press freedom and denies Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo their rights as journalists and citizens.”
- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States was “demanding their immediate release or information as to the circumstances around their disappearance”.
- Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has also called for the immediate release of the reporters. “A free press is critical to a free society - the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable,” Clinton wrote on Twitter last month.
- Senator Ben Cardin, the leading Democrat on the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the arrests of the two journalists “outrageous” and said it brought back memories of “repressive military rule”.
- The European Union, Britain, Holland, Canada and Sweden have demanded the release of the Reuters reporters. Australia has expressed concern and Bangladesh has denounced the arrests.
- Yanghee Lee and David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteurs on Myanmar and on freedom of expression respectively, said, “Journalism is not a crime. These detentions are another way for the government to censor information about the military’s role in Rakhine State and the humanitarian catastrophe taking place.”
- Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kano said, “Freedom of the press is extremely important, including in order to protect fundamental human rights. The Japanese government would like to watch (this matter) closely.” Tokyo-based Human Rights Now has called on Japan to take a stronger stance.
- A group of 50 Pulitzer Prize winners has called the arrests “an outrageous attack on media freedom” and demanded the immediate release of the pair. “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are brave, principled and professional journalists who were working in the public interest and were jailed simply for doing their jobs,” the Pulitzer Prize winners said in a statement.
- The New York Times has said in an editorial that releasing the two journalists immediately “would help restore at least some lost faith” in Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.
- Washington-based Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and advocacy group Fortify Rights have also demanded Myanmar release the Reuters journalists.
- The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Myanmar said it was “appalled” by the arrests and “gravely concerned” about press freedom in Myanmar.
- The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Thailand, Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines, Jakarta Foreign Correspondents’ Club and Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong have issued statements supporting the journalists.
Compiled by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Alex Richardson and Daniel Wallis