A group of Myanmar journalists said they would begin wearing black T-shirts on Friday (December 15) in protest of the detention of two Reuters reporters accused of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act, as pressure builds on Myanmar to release the pair.
The Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists (PCMJ), a group of local reporters who have demonstrated against past prosecutions of journalists, decried the “unfair arrests that affect media freedom”. In a statement on Facebook, the committee said its members would don black T-shirts “to signify the dark age of media freedom” in Myanmar and demanded the unconditional and immediate release of the two reporters, Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27. It is unclear how much support the group has among Myanmar’s journalists.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo disappeared on Tuesday (December 12) evening after they were invited to dine with police officers on the outskirts of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon. The two reporters had been working on Reuters coverage of a crisis that has seen an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims flee from a fierce military crackdown on militants in western Rakhine state.
The Ministry of Information said the journalists had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”, and released a photo of the pair in handcuffs.
Human rights advocates say press freedom is under attack in Myanmar, where the young civilian-led government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi shares power with the military that ran the country for decades. At least 11 journalists have been detained in 2017, although some have since been released.
Officials have declined to tell Reuters or the two journalists’ families where they are being held, saying only that they are being investigated under the 1923 Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.