YANGON (Reuters) – A spokesman for Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said yesterday he had been informed that the police had almost completed their investigation of two arrested Reuters journalists, after which a court case against them would begin.
Zaw Htay said the two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, would then have access to a lawyer and be able to meet members of their families.
“It will not be long. The investigation is almost done,” he said by phone.
The spokesman said the Ministry of Home Affairs and police told him on Tuesday that the two men were being detained in Yangon, were “in good condition” and had not been subject to “illegal questioning”.
A number of governments and human rights and journalist groups have criticised Myanmar’s authorities for holding the pair incommunicado since their arrest, with no access to a lawyer, colleagues and family members.
Asked if the police were respecting their human rights, Zaw Htay replied: “Yes, yes, I have told them not do those things.
“I told them to act according to the law. They guaranteed that they will act only according to the law,” said Zaw Htay, who wasn’t more specific.
Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, completed a week in detention on Tuesday, with no word on where they were being held as authorities proceeded with an investigation into whether they violated the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
The act carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
The two journalists had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis that has seen an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims flee from a fierce military crackdown on militants in the western state of Rakhine.
The United States and the United Nations have described the campaign as ethnic cleansing of the stateless Rohingya people.
The two journalists were arrested on December 12 after they were invited to dine with police officers on the outskirts of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon.
The Ministry of Information said last week that they had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”, and released a photo of them in handcuffs.
Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler called on Tuesday for their immediate release.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are journalists who perform a crucial role in shedding light on news of global interest and they are innocent of any wrongdoing,” he said in a statement.
A number of major governments and political leaders, including the United States, Canada and Britain and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have also called for their release.
Human Rights Watch said the detentions appeared to be “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,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement.