UN’s Guterres slams arrest of 2 Reuters scribes in Myanmar

15 Dec 2017


United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned the arrest of two journalists in Myanmar, saying that their arrest is symptomatic of eroding freedoms in the Southeast Asian country.

Speaking to the press in Tokyo on Thursday, the UN Secretary-General framed the plight of the two detained men "in relation to the dramatic violations of human rights that occurred in the country, and led to 600,000 people being forced to flee".

Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were working on stories about the Rohingya minority in western Rakhine state, when they were arrested Tuesday, the news agency has confirmed.

"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," said the UN Secretary-General.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance, representing twelve journalists groups, also condemned the arrests, saying in a statement, ''We viewed their arrest as an act that will bring down the dignity of the democratic government because they have been arrested under the Burma Official Secrets Act, which has been enacted by the colonial-era British in 1923 with the aim to oppress the … Myanmar people.''

"We are deeply concerned over possible violation of their citizens' rights since we have learned about the journalists not being allowed to contact their family members after their arrest," the statement said.

The Rohingya, who are a stateless Muslim minority, have allegedly been the target of a sustained campaign of aggression by the Myanmar army, forcing some 650,000 to flee across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh since August this year. India has not been as welcoming to the refugees as its poorer neighbour.

In September the UN human rights chief characterised the actions of the Myanmar military in Rakhine as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

The two reporters were arrested under the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law which carries a maximum 14-year jail sentence. Police officers who they were meeting were also arrested, according to Reuters.

By Thursday evening (local time), the agency reported that the Myanmar government had not formally contacted its representatives, and that the two men's whereabouts were unknown. Both journalists are Myanmar citizens. According to a Reuters report, Kyaw is a native of Rakhine state.

Guterres called the arrests an indicator of the "erosion of press freedom" in the country.

"I think it is important that the international community does everything possible to allow not only for the journalists to be released - freedom of the press is very important - but also to allow for those reasons that might justify or might have justified the reason or the reasons of the arrest to disappear," he said, referring to the wider crackdown on Rohingya.

Addressing the Rohingya issue directly, the UN chief called on Myanmar's government to ensure that "humanitarian aid to be effectively delivered ... violence to be effectively contained ... reconciliation to be promoted and ... the right of return of this community to be fully respected and implemented."

The arrests came just ahead of the release of the results of a survey by medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) which showed that a minimum of 6,700 Rohingya, including 730 children, were shot dead or killed through other violence between August 25 and September 24. The report also claims that at least 2,700 others died from disease and malnutrition.

The aid agency's death toll far surpasses estimates from Myanmar's government, which has put the figure in the hundreds.

"We met and spoke with survivors of violence in Myanmar, who are now sheltering in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Bangladesh," Sidney Wong, MSF's medical director, said in a statement.

"What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured."

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