February 27, 2018 / 1:13 PM / 4 months ago

Canada gravely concerned by Myanmar's jailing of journalists

GENEVA (Reuters) - Canada is gravely concerned by the imprisonment of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, adding that ethnic cleansing had taken place in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are escorted by police while arriving for a court hearing after lunch break in Yangon, Myanmar February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

“For true democracy to flourish, fundamental freedoms such as freedom of the press must be respected. That is why Canada is gravely concerned by the imprisonment of two Reuters journalists who dared to report on the crimes in Rakhine state,” she said.

Freeland, a former editor of Thomson Reuters Digital, was speaking at a meeting of the U.N. council in Geneva.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were detained on Dec. 12 over allegations they violated Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Court proceedings are under way to decide whether the pair will face charges under the act, with the next hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

The two reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men who were buried in a mass grave in northern Rakhine state after being hacked to death or shot by ethnic Rakhine Buddhist villagers and soldiers.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland gives a speech during a joint news conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Mexico City, Mexico February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

After Reuters published its report on the killings on Feb. 8, calls have mounted for the release of the two reporters.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine state since Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown in late August in response to militant attacks.

Myanmar has denied that ethnic cleansing has taken place, and said its troops were engaged in legitimate counterinsurgency operations.

With reference to the Reuters journalists, Hau Do Suan, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, said this month that Myanmar recognized freedom of the press and the journalists were not arrested for reporting a story, but were accused of “illegally possessing confidential government documents.”

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Alex Richardson and Mike Collett-White

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