The two Myanmar based Reuters journalists, Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, charged under and jailed for breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act were released from prison after spending 500 days behind bars.
The two journalists convicted in September 2018 and sentenced to seven years in jail for what human rights group denounced as a set-up. Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch’s, Asia Division, said in a statement. “These courageous investigative journalists should have never been arrested, much less imprisoned, in the first place and their release was long overdue.”
Reuters, Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler, welcomed the news. “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.”
Wa Lone’s and Kyaw Soe Oo’s investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017 earned them a Pulitzer award.
Before their arrest in December 2017, they had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.
Nan Paw Gay, BNI Policy Chairperson and Chief Editor of Karen Information Center told Karen News the release of the two journalists was welcome. “We are glad to see Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo released through the President’s Amnesty. In fact, they shouldn’t had been arrested for what they had done in the first place. They were framed and arrested while collecting information – this was a dire warning for all journalists in the country.”
Nan Paw Gay said local journalists faced threats and harassment on a daily basis and from oppressive government legislation.
“Article 66 (d) and 505 (b) are still in place. This makes press freedom a huge challenge for journalist to do investigative reporting. It is especially hard on for ethnic journalists, they have to do their work within all kinds of dangers and Wa Lone and Kyaw’s Soe framing and jailing has highlighted the difficulties and constraints journalists face.”
Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson statement warned local journalists faced a hard time.
“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 or NLD government officials. Myanmar’s faltering respect for media freedom is indicates the dire situation facing human rights and democracy as the country moves toward national elections in 2020.”
The International Federation of Journalists said in its report Underneath the Autocrats said the jailing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo “incarceration and highly publicized trial has put Myanmar’s so called democracy under the spotlight and served to educate and reinforce the need for protections in the fledgling media industry.”
Journalists surveyed for the IFJ report said, “despite the NLD election victory, life under Suu Kyi is little different. They still face harassment, threats, intimidation and constraints on their ability to report events such as the mass displacement of the Rohingya, the armed conflict in Kachin and Shan states and land confiscation cases where the military is involved.”