Reuters Journalists Finally Freed After 500 Days in Jail
“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.”
After more than 500 days behind bars in Myanmar, two Reuters journalists were set free on Tuesday. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December of 2017 and convicted the following September for breaking the Official Secrets Act, a charge seen by many as retaliation for the journalists’ investigation into acts of violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
The release of the journalists was unexpected as both had been sentenced to seven years in jail. Their release came via a Presidential pardon from Myanmar President Win Myint who has pardoned thousands of other prisoners since last month.
According to Reuters, before the arrest in December 2017, the journalists were specifically investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their report which included testimony from perpetrators, witnesses and families of the victims.
The U.N. estimates more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh, as a result of the army crackdown.
At their trial, the journalists’ lawyer had argued that they were framed by police. A policeman told a lower court last year that officers had planted secret documents on the two reporters. Despite the evidence, both were convicted and a later appeals case was also denied.
Reuters reported that representatives for the news organization had been involved in an ongoing dialogue over the journalists’ release with the Myanmar government, the United Nations and representatives of other governments.
“This outcome shows that dialogue works, even in the most difficult of circumstances,” said Lord Ara Darzi, a British surgeon and health care expert who has served as a member of an advisory group to Myanmar’s government on reforms in Rakhine State.
The families of the journalists also wrote to government leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“We took the letters into consideration and released them in the interest of the country,” Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay told reporters.
The arrest of the journalists became an international rallying cry for press freedom and was seen as evidence of the growing threat journalists face around the world.
Reuters celebrated the news of the release of the journalists.
“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,” Adler said.