Reuters journalists Wa Lone (left) and Kyaw Soe Oo leave Insein prison after being freed in a presidential amnesty in Yangon on May 7. Their jailing for exposing a massacre of Rohingya sparked an international outcry. (Photo by Ann Wang/AFP)
Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were among 6,520 Myanmar prisoners freed on May 7 in a mass presidential amnesty.
The Reuters reporters were convicted last September of breaking the Official Secrets Act in a case that sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.
Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were sentenced to seven years in jail, but they walked free from Insein prison on May 7 morning, just weeks after their final appeal was rejected.
The two young reporters — jailed for courageously doing their job — have already spent more than 500 days in prison since their arrest in December 2017.
The pair received the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting after exposing a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in September 2017 in Inn Dinn village, Rakhine State, during a military clampdown on the Rohingya.
Their convictions drew widespread condemnation from the West, rights groups and media watchdogs over lack of proof amid allegations that they were set up by the police.
President Win Myint also pardoned 9,551 prisoners on April 17 and another 6,948 on April 26 to mark Myanmar’s New Year. Most of those freed had been jailed for drug-related offenses.
The United Nations in Myanmar said it welcomed the release of the Reuters reporters from prison.
“The U.N. in Myanmar considers the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo a step toward improving the freedom of the press and a sign of the government’s commitment to Myanmar’s transition to democracy,” the U.N. said in a statement.
Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement: “We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said these courageous investigative journalists should have never been arrested, much less imprisoned, in the first place and their release was long overdue.
“But the crisis is not over for the literally dozens of other Burmese journalists and bloggers who are still facing baseless criminal charges for their reporting about the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] or NLD [National League for Democracy] government officials,” Robertson said.
He said Myanmar’s faltering respect for media freedom indicates the dire situation facing human rights and democracy as the country moves toward national elections in 2020.
Myanmar historian Than Myint Oo said the reporters’ release had come as part of a big amnesty so as minimize any sense that it was a response to outside pressure.
But several netizens have expressed opposition to the release of the Reuters reporters.
“They should not be released as they sell news to foreign media and they are traitors,” read one comment. Another commenter said: “They should not be freed as they behave like heroes. The international community has given prizes to them.”
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