Myanmar Extends Detention of Reuters Journalists Investigating Rohingya Crisis

Two Reuters journalists who have been detained in Myanmar for the past two weeks were remanded in custody for a further two weeks on Wednesday (December 27) as a probe into allegations they breached the nation's Official Secrets Act continues, according to their lawyer.

When they appeared in court for the proceedings, Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were allowed to meet their families and their lawyer for the first time since their arrest on the night of December 12.

The two journalists said they had not been mistreated in custody.

"The situation is okay," Wa Lone said after the hearing, adding that the two were being held at a police compound in Yangon.

"We will face it the best we can because we have never done anything wrong," he said. "We have never violated the media law nor ethics. We will continue to do our best."

Dozens of reporters and cameramen were outside the courthouse in a northern district of Yangon for the appearance of the two journalists. They were brought in a white van, rather than a police truck, dressed in casual clothes and were not handcuffed.

Their lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, who has been retained by Reuters, said the two had only been doing their job as journalists.

"They are being accused under this charge while doing their work as media," he told reporters.

Only their families and lawyer were allowed into the courtroom along with police and government lawyers.

The two journalists had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in the western state of Rakhine, where an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from a fierce military crackdown on militants.

The two journalists are being investigated under a section of the Official Secrets Act which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

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The court's decision to remand the two journalists came days after Myanmar indefinitely barred access to the United Nations' independent investigator on human rights in the country.

U.N. special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said she had been scheduled to travel to Myanmar in January. However, Myanmar told her that it would not cooperate with her or grant her access to the country for the rest of her tenure.

The country's army has been accused of committing human rights abuses, including mass rapes and extrajudicial executions, against the Rohingya, an ethnic minority that lives in segregated conditions in Rakhine.

The Rohingya are stateless people regarded as unwelcome migrants from Bangladesh. They routinely flee Myanmar due to alleged persecution.

The recent exodus was sparked following attacks by Rohingya insurgents that killed at least 11 people in Rakhine. The military retaliated with what was described as "clearance operations" to identify and root out militants. However, the U.N. described it as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

The army has strongly denied accusations of excessive force against the Rohingya, but U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said violence against Rohingya may amount to genocide.

Myanmar's de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced scathing criticism for her prolonged silence and perceived inaction to resolve the ongoing crisis.

Suu Kyi's power over the military is limited, however she has been criticized for failing to address the situation and publicly condemn the massacres. The leader refuses to use the word "Rohingya" in her public addresses, arguing it is too contentious for an already affected population.