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Myanmar Frees Journalists Jailed for Rohingya Reporting

2019-5-7

Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar for their reporting on the country’s Rohingya crisis have been freed.

The reporters - Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – smiled and waved to a crowd after leaving a Yangon prison Tuesday morning.

“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,” said Wa Lone. He added: “I am really excited to see my family and colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.”

Two weeks ago, Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected a final appeal seeking to have the pair’s prison sentences overturned.

Reuters reporter Wa Lone speaks to media after he is freed from Insein prison after receiving a presidential pardon in Yangon, Myanmar, May 7, 2019.
Reuters reporter Wa Lone speaks to media after he is freed from Insein prison after receiving a presidential pardon in Yangon, Myanmar, May 7, 2019.

Their release Tuesday was part of a presidential amnesty involving 6,520 prisoners. Myanmar’s President Win Myint has approved thousands of amnesties for prisoners in recent weeks. It is common for officials in Myanmar to free prisoners around the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had spent more than 500 days in detention.

The two reporters were arrested in December 2017 and sentenced to seven years in prison last September. They were charged with illegally possessing official documents, a violation of the country’s Official Secrets Act. The documents related to security operations taking place in the western state of Rakhine.

In August 2017, suspected Rohingya militants launched attacks against state security forces in Rakhine. In answer, government troops carried out attacks against the rebels and their supporters. About 700,000 Rohingya fled the area to escape the violence. Most are now living in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.

The United Nations has described the Myanmar military operation as a well-organized example of ethnic cleansing. Myanmar officials have denied the military carried out human rights abuses. It said the campaign was necessary to defend against attacks by Rohingya militants.

The case drew worldwide attention as a media freedom issue. Reuters had said the two men did not commit any crimes and repeatedly called for their release.

The case also drew criticism as an example of how democratic reforms have slowed in Myanmar under the civilian government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who took power in 2016. The leadership change was seen as a hopeful beginning for new, more open government after years of isolation under military rule.

Rights groups had repeatedly urged Aung San Suu Kyi to use her influence to intervene in the case, but she chose not to do so.

The investigation the journalists were working on was completed by other Reuters reporters and published in 2018. The coverage was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

sympathize n. to understand and care about someone's problems

colleague n. someone you work with

amnesty n. a government action that permits prisoners to go free

isolation n. the state of being separate from other people, places or things