One week since they went missing, two Reuters reporters detained by Burmese authorities are being treated well and in good health, according to a senior government spokesman, who nonetheless declined to provide information on where the two men are being held.
Zaw Htay, the spokesperson, told DVB on Tuesday that the journalists were in custody in accordance with the law. Their families have been kept in the dark as to their whereabouts since they were arrested on the evening of 12 December.
The reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were detained in Yangon’s Mingalardon Township, allegedly in possession of sensitive government documents, which could see the pair imprisoned for up to 14 years under Burma’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Two police officers were also arrested in connection with the case, Deputy Police Major Moe Yan Naing and Police Sergeant Khin Maung Lin.
“The case has reached the court and we can’t do anything more. If we were to say something — we don’t want to have influence over the court. … So, I don’t want to comment on this case,” Zaw Htay said.
He did not provide any details on when the journalists’ initial court appearance was expected, nor when their families might have a chance to visit them.
President Htin Kyaw has reportedly given his approval for authorities to move forward in pressing charges in the case.
Pe Myint, Burma’s information minister, has said the minstry will “try its best” to advocate on the journalists’ behalf, provided more information on their case comes to light.
“We did in the previous cases. If we know the details, we will do what we should do for them,” he told reporters on Monday in Naypyidaw.
Wa Lone’s wife Pan Ei Mon professed her husband’s innocence and urged greater transparency from the authorities handling the case.
“I’m very concerned about my husband. At least the families should be informed of where he is being detained,” she said.
The prominent lawyer Robert San Aung argued that any prosecution based on the Official Secrets Act lacked merit in this case, and that the speedy release of the two journalists would be good for the image and dignity of the country.
“The two journalists hadn’t yet written a story regarding the documents. I don’t understand why the authorities thought these journalists should have action taken against them under the State Secrets Act. The documents were not used for a story. So, they didn’t violate the law,” he said.
Reuters has called for its reporters’ immediate release.
“We and their families continue to be denied access to them or to the most basic information about their well-being and whereabouts. … Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are journalists who perform a crucial role in shedding light on news of global interest, and they are innocent of any wrongdoing,” said Stephen J. Adler, the news wire’s president and editor-in-chief.
Win Htein, a member of the ruling National League for Democracy party’s leadership, on Monday called the journalists “naive” for the way they handled the alleged exchange of the documents in question.
“The arrest is bad. They [Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo] are naive,” he told reporters in Naypyidaw. He also appeared to confirm earlier reports that the men were lured into their legal predicament, saying they had been “caught in a trap.”
“They got the documents from the police officers at the place where they had dinner. They were arrested and have been found to have possession of such documents a few minutes after leaving the dinner,” he said. “I want to ask: Why would the journalists be so naive? … Once they got their hands on the documents, they should have sent them to somewhere else.”
Reuters has been at the forefront of reporting on the latest crisis to hit Rakhine State, where press access has been severely restricted since late August.
Win Htein noted the high-profile nature of the latest incident to raise questions about press freedom in Burma.
“The case being related to national security and such, it becomes so big. International pressure and skillful lawyers are needed to get them out of detention,” he said.