(Arête News) — Myanmar’s government released two Reuters reporters on Tuesday who had been held in a notorious prison for more than 500 days because of their Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the country’s grave crimes against hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, both imprisoned for breaking Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act over their reporting on security forces’ abuses of Rohingya Muslims, were freed after President Win Myint delivered a blanket pardon of 6,520 prisoners, said Zaw Zaw, chief of Yangon’s Insein Prison.
“I want to say that I am very happy today. I want to thank our friends and families who were trying for our freedom and also to those from all over the world who sympathized with us,” Wa Lone told other journalists assembled in front of the prison, The Associated Press reported.
“I am really excited to see my family and colleagues,” he said. “I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.”
They were serving seven year terms for convictions that the Supreme Court upheld last month. The two journalists had been imprisoned since December 2017 inside Yangon’s Insein prison, which for many years has been known for its corruption, disease, torture and harsh treatment of political prisoners.
While he was in prison, Wa Lone became a father for the first time. Kyaw Soe Oo also has a young daughter. Their wives repeatedly appealed to Myanmar’s government to pardon their husbands, and their employer, Toronto-based Thomson Reuters Corp., and many of its reporters clamored tirelessly for their release.
“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,” Reuters’ Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said in a statement.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) May 7, 2019
The United Nations and other international organizations that promote human rights and press freedom had urged Myanmar to immediately release the reporters, who had been investigating the killings of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The killings occurred in an army crackdown that began in August 2017 and sent nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslim people fleeing to Bangladesh. International organizations and other news outlets drew attention to the case of the two journalists as an example of how countries imprison journalists for doing their jobs.
The Committee to Protect Journalists was “deeply relieved” that the two Reuters journalists were finally freed “and reiterates that Myanmar should never have charged and jailed them in the first place,” CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, Shawn Crispin, said in a statement.
“May their release herald a new era of press freedom in Myanmar, where reporters no longer fear reprisal merely for doing their jobs,” he said.
The United Nations office in Myanmar also said it welcomed the journalists’ release.
“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 government’s commitment to Myanmar’s transition to democracy,” it said in a statement. “The U.N. stands ready to continue to support Myanmar in its complex transition process.”