Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after they were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act walked free from a prison on the outskirts of Yangon after spending more than 500 days behind bars.
The two reporters, Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, had been convicted in September and sentenced to seven years in jail, in a case that raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates. President Win Myint has pardoned thousands of other prisoners in mass amnesties since last month. It is customary in Myanmar for authorities to free prisoners across the country around the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17. Reuters has said the two men did not commit any crime and had called for their release. Swamped by media and well wishers as they walked through the gates of Insein Prison, a grinning Wa Lone gave a thumbs up and said he was grateful for the international efforts to secure their freedom.
“I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom,” he said.
- The journalists had been working on an investigation into the killings of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine state, following an army crackdown in the region in August 2017.
- Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested by Myanmarese police in December 2017.
- The men had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting into the Rohingya in May 2018.
The reporters’ wives wrote a letter to the government in April pleading for a pardon, not, they said, because their husbands had done anything wrong, but because it would allow them to be released from prison and reunited with their families. But in less than a month, the two journalists were released at the prison to Lord Ara Darzi, a British surgeon and healthcare expert who has served as a member of an advisory group to Myanmar’s government. Lord Darzi waited for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo at the gates of Insein prison on a street where dozens of reporters and photographers expecting a release of prisoners were also waiting. “I am delighted that the Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been granted a pardon, released from custody, and are with their loved ones once more,” Lord Darzi told Reuters in a statement. “This outcome shows that dialogue works, even in the most difficult of circumstances.”
“The power of dialogue must be turned towards securing a lasting peace in Rakhine State and the return of the hundreds of thousands of refugees, whose desperate plight continues,” Lord Darzi said. “This is essential if Myanmar is to build on today’s progress so that all its citizens can live together in dignity in the hope of a better tomorrow.”