The human rights group Amnesty International called Tuesday on Myanmar to immediately release two Reuters journalists it has detained, contending the government was trying to thwart their investigation of its military actions against the minority Rohingyas.
Amnesty International said the journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, "have done absolutely nothing but carry out their legitimate work."
James Gomez, Amnesty International's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said, "This is clearly an attempt by the authorities to silence investigations into military violations and crimes against Rohingya in Rakhine state, and to scare other journalists away from doing the same."
Gomez contended that the arrests of the two journalists "have not happened in a vacuum, but come as authorities are increasingly restricting independent media. Journalists and media outlets, in particular those who report on 'sensitive topics,' are living with the constant fear of harassment, intimidation or arrest. This clampdown on freedom of speech must end."
Amnesty International said the journalists were arrested December 12 in Yangon and held incommunicado for two weeks. Myanmar says the two reporters are being investigated for possible violations of the country's Official Secrets Act, which, if they are convicted, could result in up to 14 years in prison. They are to appear in court Wednesday.
The journalists had worked on stories about Myanmar's military crackdown in Rakhine state, leading to the flight of more than 600,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh since last August.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong says Myanmar has blocked journalists from traveling independently to northern Rakhine to look firsthand at the crackdown, and to verify refugees' claims of murder, mass rape and burning of villages by security forces.
The United Nations, the United States, Britain, Sweden and Bangladesh are among those who have called for the release of the two journalists.
Days after the journalists' detention, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, "A free press is vital to Myanmar's transition and becoming a vital democracy, and we want Myanmar's democracy to succeed."
Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said the global news organization is "outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom."