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Myanmar: journalists arrested, UN official banned from investigating

Wednesday 20 December 2017, by siawi3


December 20, 2017 / 7:49 AM / Updated 4 hours ago

Rights group calls on Japan to take stronger stance over arrests of journalists in Myanmar

Reuters Staff

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Tokyo-based non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Now, on Wednesday called on the Japanese government to take a stronger stance over the arrests of two Reuters journalists detained in Myanmar last week.

Photo: Reuters journalist Wa Lone, who was arrested in Myanmar, is seen in this July 29, 2014 photo. Picture taken July 29, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Tuesday said freedom of the press was vital and that Japan was closely monitoring the situation, but he did not call for the journalists’ release.

Human Rights Now Secretary-General Kazuko Ito told Reuters that Japan should send a stronger message about the arrests.

Ito said that by not joining in international calls for the journalists’ release, Japan might be sending a message that it was ok for the Myanmar government to violate human rights.

“Therefore, I would like (the government of Japan) to exercise care in its comments and clearly express astance of standing together with those who are victims of humanrights violations,” she told Reuters.

Asked about Ito’s remarks, Japan’s top government spokesman said Tokyo had already conveyed its concerns to Myanmar.

”I will refrain from details but the government has already directly conveyed its concerns regarding this incident to the government of Myanmar,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

Japan typically shies away from outspoken public comments about human rights issues overseas, preferring to focus on quiet diplomacy.

File photo of Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, who was arrested in Myanmar, is seen in this January 31, 2017 photo. Picture taken January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

Japan is one of Myanmar’s biggest foreign aid donors, where it vies for influence with China, Myanmar’s largest trading partner. Japan said last year it would provide aid worth 800 billion yen ($7 billion) to Myanmar over five years.

Human Rights Now is a well-known group in Japan. It has a membership of over 700 individuals and organisations, including lawyers, with a presence in Tokyo and Osaka in Japan as well as New York, Geneva and Myanmar, its website says, and has had United Nations special consultative status since 2012.


The Reuters journalists were arrested after they were invited to dine with police officers on the evening of Dec. 12 on the outskirts of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon.

They had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis that has seen an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims flee from a fierce military crackdown in the western state of Rakhine following attacks by militants.

A spokesman for Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday he had been informed that the police had almost completed their investigation of the journalists, after which a court case against them would begin.

Authorities have been investigating whether the journalists violated the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

A number of governments, including the United States, Canada and Britain, and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, have criticised the arrests as an attack on press freedom and called on Myanmar to release the two men.

“The detention of journalists reporting on such critical matters to the public interest is an egregious attack on freedom of the press in Myanmar that will severely undermine the ability of journalists to conduct their legitimate work without fear of reprisal,” Human Rights Now said in a statement, in which it called for the journalists’ immediate release and the end to proceedings against them.

Reporting by Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Teppei Kasai; Editing by Martin Howell



Myanmar bans UN official as military finds mass grave in Rakhine

CNN Digital Expansion 2017. James Griffiths

By Angus Watson and James Griffiths, CNN

Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT) December 20, 2017

Who are the Rohingya and why are they fleeing? 02:30

Story highlights

Reporting on Myanmar has become more and more difficult since the anti-Rohingya crackdown began
Multiple journalists have been detained and threatened with arrest

(CNN)Myanmar has banned a United Nations official investigating the ongoing crackdown in Rakhine State from the country, after claiming a previous report by her was biased and unfair, the UN said Wednesday.
Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, was informed Wednesday all access to the country has been denied and cooperation withdrawn for the duration of her tenure, the UN said in a statement.

“I am puzzled and disappointed by this decision by the Myanmar government,” Lee said. “This declaration of non-cooperation with my mandate can only be viewed as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country.”
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay told CNN Lee “is not impartial and objective when conducting her work, there is no trust in her.”
The ban came a day after Myanmar state media reported that a mass grave with 10 bodies inside had been found at Inn Din, north of Rakhine state capital Sittwe. Photos published by the military showed the grave being exhumed and multiple skeletal remains.
The army said “an investigation would be carried out,” according to the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed the Bangladeshi border from Rakhine State since renewed violence broke out in late August. Both the UN and the United States say the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing.
The Myanmar government says the bloodshed resulted from a military crackdown on militants who carried out co-ordinated attacks on border posts.
A recent Médecins Sans Frontières report said at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in attacks during the first month of the crackdown in Rakhine. In November, Myanmar’s military said that 376 “ARSA Bengali terrorists” were killed in fighting between August 25 and September 5, referring to the Rohingya insurgent group.
“They don’t want anybody to come in, either because they really are trying to hide something or I’m not sure, because they say one thing, that there’s nothing to hide, but then they deny access,” Lee told CNN.
Authorities in Rakhine state work to uncover a mass grave found in a village north of the provincial capital Sittwe.
Authorities in Rakhine state work to uncover a mass grave found in a village north of the provincial capital Sittwe.

HRW: Reuters journalists ’disappeared’

The recent arrest of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar has added weight to suggestions from human rights agencies that the government has something to hide.
Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested last week after meeting with police in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital. According to the news agency, the two had been investigating the ongoing crackdown in western Rakhine state.
An altered image released by Myanmar's Ministry of Information shows two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, in handcuffs.
An altered image released by Myanmar’s Ministry of Information shows two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, in handcuffs.
The reporters were charged under the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law which carries a maximum 14-year jail sentence. Police officers who they were meeting were also arrested.
Since their arrest, the two journalists have been held in an undisclosed location and both their employer and families have been denied access to them, Reuters said.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch accused the Myanmar authorities of attempting to “disappear” the two journalists. Asia director Brad Adams said their detentions “appear aimed at stopping independent reporting of the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.”
“Their secret, incommunicado detention lays bare government efforts to silence media reporting on critical issues,” he said.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said the pair were “in Yangon, if you want to know where they are you can ask the police.” Attempts to reach the Yangon police were unsuccessful.

Impact of Myanmar misinformation on refugees 01:45
Cases under the the country’s Official Secrets Act require presidential approval to go ahead. Zaw Htay refused to answer questions about the ongoing case, but said the pair were being prosecuted “in accordance with the law.”
Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council, said he believed the reporters “were arrested due to their reporting in Inn Din village,” in Maungdaw township, the region where the mass grave was found.
“That is where they were traveling before they returned to Yangon and were arrested,” he added, speaking in a personal capacity.
At least five other Myanmar journalists have been detained and threatened with charges under the Telecommunications Act, a highly restrictive media law, the Unlawful Associations Act, and the News Media Law, according to HRW.
International media has been largely denied access to Rakhine, except on tightly controlled military tours of the area.
Rights groups say thousands of Rohingya have been killed since August, while more than half a million have fled to Bangladesh.
Rights groups say thousands of Rohingya have been killed since August, while more than half a million have fled to Bangladesh.

Villages burned

The Rohingya who have arrived in Bangladesh have told harrowing stories of massacres, rape and widespread torching of villages

Rohingya crisis: How we got here

At least 354 villages have been partially or completely destroyed since August, according to HRW, citing satellite imagery. Destruction continued even as the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments agreed to begin returning refugees to the area, the group said.
“The (Myanmar) army’s destruction of Rohingya villages within days of signing a refugee repatriation agreement with Bangladesh shows that commitments to safe returns were just a public relations stunt,” Adams said.
Of the 354 affected villages, around 120 were partially or completely destroyed after September 5, when the Myanmar government announced the end to clearance operations. Since October, 40 new villages have been burned, HRW said.
Responding to questions about the HRW report, Zaw Htay said since August there have been “almost 300” villages burned.
“Nine villages were burned in October and four were burned in November, so our details are very different to the details published by Human Rights Watch,” he said.
“We are sending a delegation to the area to establish how the villages were burned, but the situation is very complicated, there are a lot of actors involved, including ARSA,” Zaw Htay said, referring to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Rohingya militant group the government has blamed for sparking violence in the region.