Bangladeshi authorities should immediately release two Myanmar journalists who were detained by police on September 7 and drop all charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Saturday.
Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat were detained more than a week ago in Cox’s Bazar, where around 400,000 Rohingya have sought refuge from the fresh violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that started since August 25.
According to AFP, the pair’s lawyer said they were charged with “false impersonation” and providing “false information” after police accused them of using the cover of tourist visas to enter the country, instead of journalist visas.
Cox’s Bazar police station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Ranjit Kumar Barua said the pair were also “primarily accused of espionage.”
“They were collecting information on the Rohingya for Myanmar,” he said.
An award-winning photographer from Bangladesh was also arrested with the pair, but was later freed.
Scores of foreign journalists have poured into Bangladesh to cover the Rohingya exodus.
The United Nations has accused Myanmar of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the stateless Rohingya community, who say the military has launched a brutal crackdown in Rakhine.
Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat arrived in Cox’s Bazar early September on an assignment for the Hamburg-based magazine Geo to cover the refugee crisis.
Their arrest was only announced on September 13 and a court rejected a bail plea on September 14, their Bangladeshi lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua told reporters.
He described Minzayar Oo as “an award winning photographer whose work was published in reputed dailies and magazines” including the New York Times, Guardian and National Geographic.
In a statement, CPJ said they were unable to get comments regarding the matter from the Cox's Bazar police immediately. Their calls to Ranjit Barua were unanswered, and police did not respond to their email promptly.
"The Bangladeshi authorities should not criminalise covering a major world story," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney.
"Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat should be released immediately and all charges against them dropped. Both local and international journalists reporting on the Rohingya story must be allowed to work freely," he added
A spokesman for Myanmar's Presidential Office, Zaw Htay, posted a tweet on Saturday saying that “the government is asking Bangladesh why the journalists are being held.”
CPJ is an American independent non-profit, non-governmental organisation which promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists.