Two award-winning Burmese journalists have been released from prison after spending more than 500 days behind bars.
Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act, and were released under a presidential amnesty having been convicted last September and sentenced to seven years in jail.
The sentencing of the pair, both Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists raised questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy and sparked an outcry from human rights advocates.
As part of the custom of releasing prisoners around the traditional new year, President Win Myint pardoned 6,520 prisoners in a mass amnesty.
Reuters has said the two men did not commit any crime and had called for their release. Wa Lone while emerging from the prison 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, while Kyaw Soe Oo smiled and waved to reporters.
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 and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State in August 2017. Some 730,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh, according to UN estimates. The report, which featured testimony from perpetrators, witnesses and families of the victims, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.i
Myanmar’s Supreme Court had rejected the journalists’ final appeal in April. The pair had petitioned the country’s top court, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime.
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. We welcome their return.”