An altered image released by Myanmar's Ministry of Information shows two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, in handcuffs.

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UN chief condemns arrest of Reuters journalists

Guterres: Arrests symptomatic of wider crackdown on human rights in Myanmar

CNN  — 

The UN’s Secretary-General has condemned the arrest of two journalists in Myanmar, saying that their arrest is symptomatic of eroding freedoms in the Southeast Asian country.

Speaking to the press in Tokyo Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres framed the plight of the two detained men “in relation to the dramatic violations of human rights that occurred in the country, and led to 600,000 people being forced to flee.”

Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were working on stories about the Rohingya minority in western Rakhine state, when they were arrested Tuesday, the news agency has confirmed.

“Probably the reason why these journalists were arrested is because they were reporting on what they have seen in relation to this massive human tragedy,” said the UN Secretary-General.

The Rohingya, who are a stateless Muslim minority, have have been the target of a sustained campaign of aggression by the Myanmar army, forcing some 650,000 to flee across the border to neighboring Bangladesh since August this year.

In September Guterres’ human rights chief characterized the actions of the Myanmar military in Rakhine as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The two reporters were arrested under the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law which carries a maximum 14-year jail sentence. Police officers who they were meeting were also arrested, according to Reuters.

By Thursday evening (local time), the agency reported that the Myanmar government had not formally contacted its representatives, and that the two men’s whereabouts were unknown. Both journalists are Myanmar citizens. According to a Reuters report, Kyaw is a native of Rakhine state.

TEKNAF, BANGLADESH - NOVEMBER 24: Rohingya refugees who arrived in the early morning are held for registration by the Bangladesh military November 24, 2017 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. These refugees, from Busidong Gudanpara in Myanmar, left their village August 28th when the Myanmar military opened fire into houses and killed and arrested people. Since August 28, they sheltered in different villages and in the forest, hoping that international pressure would soon make the attacks stop so that they could return home to their village. They say that they finally realized the pressure that was being applied would not stop the Myanmar military from killing them, so they spend 4 days crafting a raft from plastic and crossed into Bangladesh in the early morning of November 24, 2017. Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal on Thursday to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have flooded into Bangladesh during the brutal crackdown on the Rohingya minority. Over 620,000 Rohingya have fled their homes since   the brutal crackdown began late August, which has been termed as "ethnic cleansing" by the UN and the US. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
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The Secretary-General called the arrests an indicator of the “erosion of press freedom” in the country.

“I think it is important that the international community does everything possible to allow not only for the journalists to be released – freedom of the press is very important – but also to allow for those reasons that might justify or might have justified the reason or the reasons of the arrest to disappear,” he said, referring to the wider crackdown on R