On Dec. 13, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information released a photograph of two handcuffed men who had been arrested for simply doing their job. They were Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two journalists who work for Reuters and who were arrested on the order of Myanmar’s president, Htin Kyaw, a day earlier on the outskirts of Yangon where they’d gone to meet two policemen from Rakhine State. They haven’t been seen or heard from since.
They were trying to find the truth about what is going on in Rakhine State, from which some 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled since a military crackdown began in August. As evidence piles up of ethnic cleansing so brutal it could well qualify as genocide, truth is the last thing the government wants known. The day after the journalists’ arrest, Doctors Without Borders released a report estimating that 6,700 Rohingya, including 730 children under the age of 5, were killed during the first month of the military’s operation, putting the lie to the army’s astounding claim last month that its troops had not killed a single civilian.
On Wednesday, the United Nations disclosed that Myanmar has now permanently barred Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, from visiting the country. This heavy-handed effort to quash an investigation simply confirms the army’s guilt. “This declaration of noncooperation with my mandate,” said Ms. Lee, “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.”
As to press freedom, Myanmar’s new democracy is little different from its old military dictatorship. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s detention “comes on the heels of the arrests of journalists in multiple parts of Burma under a variety of charges,” says Richard Weir of Human Rights Watch. The two reporters have been charged under Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act, and they face up to 14 years in jail.
Condemnations of the journalists’ arrest and demands for their immediate release have descended from nations around the world, including the United States and the European Union, as well as the United Nations.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has benefited from foreign investments that were made on the understanding that Myanmar was becoming more democratic. But its behavior, as Senator Ben Cardin said on Wednesday, has reawakened “the memory of the horrible practices with the repressive military rule.” Releasing the two journalists immediately would help restore at least some lost faith.
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