Two reporters for the Reuters news agency have been arrested in Myanmar on suspicion of possessing "secret police documents" pertaining to the refugee crisis in Rakhine state, the government said Wednesday.
Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested late Tuesday in the main city of Yangon and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act. The journalists allegedly planned "to send important security documents regarding security forces in Rakhine state to foreign agencies abroad," according to the government's Myanmar Press Council.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said police officers "involved in that case" were also arrested and the government "will take action against those policemen and also the reporters."
Reuters spokesman Abbe Serphos said the news organization is "urgently seeking more information about the circumstances of their arrest and their current situation."
The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, said, "We are deeply concerned by the highly irregular arrests of two Reuters reporters after they were invited to meet with police officials in Yangon last night. For a democracy to succeed, journalists need to be able to do their jobs freely. We urge the government to explain these arrests and allow immediate access to the journalists."
The U.S. State Deparment also expressed concern, tweeting that "freedom of the press if the cornerstone of democracy."
Wa Lone joined Reuters in 2016 and has covered the Rohingya refugee crisis and a variety of other stories. Kyaw Soe Oo joined the media outlet in September.
The northern part of the Rakhine state is the focal point of Myanmar's military campaign that has pushed more than 625,000 minority Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh. The operation that began in August in response to attacks on police outposts has been denounced by the United Nations as "ethnic cleansing."
The military and the civilian government have prohibited most journalists and international observers from traveling independently to the area.
Violations of the Officials Secrets Act, which became law during the country's colonial era of the 1920's, is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.