TOKYO • The arrest of two Reuters journalists in Yangon this week was a signal that press freedom is shrinking in Myanmar and the international community must do all it can to get them released, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said.
He said his main concern over Myanmar was the "dramatic violations of human rights" during a military crackdown in Rakhine state that forced more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the country, and that the arrest of the journalists was probably related.
"It is clearly a concern in relation to the erosion of press freedom in the country," he told a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday, referring to the detention of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who had been working on stories about the strife in Rakhine state.
"And 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," Mr Guterres added.
Myanmar's Ministry of Information said in a statement on Wednesday that the Reuters journalists and two policemen faced charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
The 1923 law carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. The reporters "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media", the ministry said in its statement, which was accompanied by a photo of the two reporters in handcuffs.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh say their exodus from the mainly Buddhist nation was triggered by a military offensive in response to Rohingya militant attacks on security forces at the end of August.
PROBABLE REASON FOR ARREST
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.
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES, referring to the Rohingya crisis.
Mr Guterres said the international community should do everything possible to secure the journalists' release and freedom of the press in Myanmar.
He also called for aid to be delivered, violence contained and reconciliation promoted in Rakhine state, and for the Rohingya refugees' right of return to be fully respected and implemented.
Meanwhile, Britain has expressed "grave concerns" to the government of Myanmar over the arrest of the two journalists, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters in London on Thursday.