After one week, Myanmar silent on whereabouts of detained Reuters journalists

YANGON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Two Reuters journalists completed a week in detention in Myanmar 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.

Journalists Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested last Tuesday evening after they were invited to dine with police officers on the outskirts of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.

"We and their families continue to be denied access to them or to the most basic information about their well-being and whereabouts," Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement calling 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."

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Detained Reuters journalists in Myanmar
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Detained Reuters journalists in Myanmar
Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski
Reuters journalist Wa Lone, who is based in Myanmar, is seen working in Sittwe in the state of Rakhine, Myanmar September 18, 2017. Picture taken September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Marshall
This undated picture shows Reuters journalist Wa Lone, who was arrested in Myanmar. REUTERS/Staff
Reuters journalist Wa Lone, who is based in Myanmar, poses for a picture while attending a hostile environment course in Kanchanaburi Province, near Bangkok, Thailand, Feburary 14, 2017. Picture taken February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Marshall
Reuters journalist Wa Lone, who was arrested in Myanmar, is seen at Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar March 14, 2017. Picture taken March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski
Reuters journalist Wa Lone, who is based in Myanmar, is seen in this undated picture in Myanmar. REUTERS/Staff
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The news group Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) on Tuesday cited government spokesman Zaw Htay as saying that the journalists were "being treated well and in good health."

It gave no further details in its online report.

Reuters was unable to reach Zaw Htay for comment.

Myanmar's civilian president, Htin Kyaw, a close ally of government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has authorized the police to proceed with a case against the reporters, Zaw Htay said on Sunday.

Approval from the president's office is needed before court proceedings can begin in cases brought under the Official Secrets Act, which has 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.

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Fleeing violence in Myanmar
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Fleeing violence in Myanmar
Rohingya refugees carry their child as they walk through water after crossing border by boat through the Naf River in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A local man carries an old Rohingya refugee woman as she is unable to walk after crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh September 1, 2017. Picture taken September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Rohingya refugee girl sits next to her mother who rests after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugees walk to the shore with his belongings after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Rohingya refugee carries a child through a paddy field after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugees wash mud from their clothes while crossing a canal in Teknaf, Bangladesh September 1, 2017. Picture taken September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A Rohingya refugee woman cries after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugee children walk on a muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A group of Rohingya refugees cross a canal after travelling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A member of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) tells a Rohingya girl not to come on Bangladesh side, in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugees sit as they are temporarily held by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in an open area after crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Rohingya boy carries a child while walking in the mud after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee people take part in Eid al-Adha prayer near the Kutupalang makeshift refugee camp, in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Shoes are seen left in a road near Maungdaw, Myanmar August 30, 2017. Picture taken August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
New Rohingya refugees sit near the Kutupalang makeshift refugee camp, in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
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CRITICISM FROM FAR AND WIDE

A number of governments, including the United States, Canada and Britain, and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, as well as a host of journalists' and human rights' groups, have criticized the arrests as an attack on press freedom and called on Myanmar to release the two men.

The European Union's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini added her voice on Monday, with her spokeswoman describing the arrests as "a cause of real concern."

"Freedom of the press and media is the foundation and a cornerstone of any democracy," the spokeswoman said.

Myanmar has seen rapid growth in independent media since censorship imposed under the former junta was lifted in 2012.

Rights groups were hopeful there would be further gains in press freedoms after Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi came to power last year amid a transition from full military rule that had propelled her from political prisoner to elected leader.

However, advocacy groups say freedom of speech has been eroded since she took office, with many arrests of journalists, restrictions on reporting in Rakhine state and heavy use of state-run media to control the narrative.

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Devastation in Myanmar from above
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Devastation in Myanmar from above
COX'S BAZAR, BANGLADESH - OCTOBER 03: Makeshift shelters are seen at the sprawling Balukali Rohingya refuge camp on October 3, 2017 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. More than half a million Rohingya refugees have flooded into Bangladesh to flee an offensive by Myanmar's military that the United Nations has called 'a textbook example of ethnic cleansing'. The refugee population is expected to swell further, with thousands more Rohingya Muslims said to be making the perilous journey on foot toward the border, or paying smugglers to take them across by water in wooden boats. Hundreds are known to have died trying to escape, and survivors arrive with horrifying accounts of villages burned, women raped, and scores killed in the 'clearance operations' by Myanmar's army and Buddhist mobs that were sparked by militant attacks on security posts in Rakhine state on August 25, 2017. What the Rohingya refugees flee to is a different kind of suffering in sprawling makeshift camps rife with fears of malnutrition, cholera, and other diseases. Aid organizations are struggling to keep pace with the scale of need and the staggering number of them - an estimated 60 percent - who are children arriving alone. Bangladesh, whose acceptance of the refugees has been praised by humanitarian officials for saving lives, has urged the creation of an internationally-recognized 'safe zone' where refugees can return, though Rohingya Muslims have long been persecuted in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. World leaders are still debating how to confront the country and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who championed democracy, but now appears unable or unwilling to stop the army's brutal crackdown. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
This picture taken on October 10, 2017 shows burnt villages near Maungdaw in Northern Rakhine State. / AFP PHOTO / Marion THIBAUT (Photo credit should read MARION THIBAUT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on October 10, 2017 shows burnt villages near Maungdaw in Northern Rakhine State. / AFP PHOTO / Marion THIBAUT (Photo credit should read MARION THIBAUT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on October 10, 2017 shows the remains of burnt villages near Maungdaw in Northern Rakhine State. Ahead is a river they can't afford to cross, behind is hunger and hostility. So hundreds of Rohingya encamped on a black sand beach in Myanmar's Maungdaw cling to thinning hopes of safe passage to Bangladesh -- before their food runs out. / AFP PHOTO / Marion THIBAUT / TO GO WITH Myanmar-Bangladesh-unrest-religion, SCENE by Marion THIBAUT with Alexandre MARCHAND (Photo credit should read MARION THIBAUT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on October 10, 2017 shows burnt villages near Maungdaw in Northern Rakhine State. / AFP PHOTO / Marion THIBAUT (Photo credit should read MARION THIBAUT/AFP/Getty Images)
Over 500k ppl have fled violence in #Myanmar. This drone clip captures the sheer scale of their makeshift camps… https://t.co/HlZ3htHdOX
View of a hill where Rohingya refugees tents were removed by Bangladeshi government at Tang Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days before, still camps at the banks of the Naf river waiting to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
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BLACK SHIRTS PROTEST

About 20 local reporters belonging to the Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists (PCMJ) posted pictures on Tuesday of themselves wearing black shirts as a sign of protest. They said their act was meant "to signify the dark age of media freedom."

"By wearing black shirts, all journalists should show unity," said Tha Lun Zaung Htet, a producer and presenter at DVB Debate TV and a leading member of the PCMJ. "We must fight for press freedom with unity."

But most journalists in Yangon did not take part in the campaign. Mya Hnin Aye, senior executive editor at the Voice Weekly, said few participated because the arrested journalists work for foreign media, much of whose "reporting on the Rakhine issue is biased."

Myo Nyunt, deputy director for Myanmar's Ministry of Information, told Reuters the case against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had nothing to do with press freedom, and said journalists have "freedom to write and speak."

The Ministry of Information said last week that the two journalists had "illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media," and released a photo of them in handcuffs.

The authorities have not allowed the journalists any contact with their families, a lawyer or Reuters since their arrest.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called on the authorities to immediately disclose the whereabouts of the pair.

"All detainees must be allowed prompt access to a lawyer and to family members," Frederick Rawski, the ICJ's Asia-Pacific Regional Director, said in a statement on Monday.

"Authorities are bound to respect these rights in line with Myanmar law and the State's international law obligations."

On Sunday, spokesman Zaw Htay said the journalists' legal rights were being respected. "Your reporters are protected by the rule of the law."

(Reporting by Yimou Lee, Thu Thu Aung, Shoon Naing and Simon Lewis; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Alex Richardson and; Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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