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World

Myanmar Holds 2 Reuters Reporters Under Official Secrets Act

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What does the arrest of two journalists say about press freedom in Myanmar? The government arrested two reporters from the news service Reuters who were investigating police abuse against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Journalist Poppy McPherson is tracking the story from Bangkok and joins us via Skype. Welcome to the program.

POPPY MCPHERSON, BYLINE: Hi, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: How exactly were the reporters investigating this abuse of the Rohingya?

MCPHERSON: I mean, they've been - they've been covering this for more than a year now. They are very respected journalists. They have good sources in Rakhine and elsewhere. They...

INSKEEP: Oh, Rakhine, that's the province where the Rohingya are concentrated. OK.

MCPHERSON: Yeah, exactly. They're kind of talking - they're covering both sides. They have both Rohingya sources and Rakhine and police sources. And so last Tuesday, they were invited to dinner with a couple of police officers in Yangon, which is the commercial capital of Myanmar. And they were - according to Reuters, they were invited to dinner with the police. They sat down, and some documents were handed over. And then when they left, the - these police officers had recently been stationed in Rakhine. They'd just returned from duty in that area. And so after the dinner, they were arrested.

INSKEEP: So this was a setup or, perhaps the police would say, a sting.

MCPHERSON: That's what the speculation is certainly. I mean, one of the - one of the civilian government officials said that it looked like a trap, which is, you know, what everyone's been saying, that this is something that that was set up. It certainly looks like that from the outside.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask you - I know that that this week they've been approved for trial. The police can go forward and put them on trial. They had to get approval from not the military but the civilian government, a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize recipient. And we keep hearing that she can't do much to stop the military from attacking the Rohingya population. But was she really also helpless to do anything for these journalists?

MCPHERSON: That's what they've been saying. The civilian government's sort of wringing its hands, saying that this is in the hands of the military and police. Now, the ministry - the home affairs ministry, which is handling this, is military controlled. And this week, a couple of senior government officials have spoken out, and they've sort of said that they've disapproved of the secrecy surrounding the arrests. I mean, the reporters haven't actually been able to contact their families. Reuters doesn't even know where they are. It's really - they've essentially been disappeared. And these civilian officials have sort of condemned that, but they've also said that they can't do anything about it, and only international pressure could possibly have an impact.

INSKEEP: Very briefly - is this a normal level of press freedom, or lack of press freedom, for Myanmar?

MCPHERSON: It's a really harrowing just decline of press freedom in the past - in the past year but especially since August 25 since the - since the abuse of Rohingya really ratcheted up and this horrific crimes have been committed. That's kind of - the decline of press freedom have gone - has gone hand in hand with that.

INSKEEP: Poppy McPherson in Bangkok, thanks very much for the time, really appreciate it.

MCPHERSON: Thanks.

INSKEEP: She's tracking the story of two Reuters journalists arrested and slated for trial in Myanmar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAX MELVIN'S "SAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.