Wed, May 08, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Myanmar frees Reuters journalists


Reuters journalists Wa Lone, left, and Kyaw Soe Oo greet supporters as they leave Insein Prison in Naypyidaw yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Two Reuters journalists jailed for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar yesterday walked out of prison, freed in a presidential amnesty after a vigorous global campaign — and backroom diplomacy — for their release.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were mobbed by media as they stepped out of Naypyidaw’s Insein Prison after more than 16 months in detention.

Their December 2017 arrests made them an international cause celebre and a sign of Myanmar’s deteriorating press freedoms under Nobel laureate and Burmese State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Wa Lone, 33, thanked people from “around the world” for advocating for their release and vowed that he would return to work.

“I can’t wait to go to my newsroom,” he said. “I am a journalist and I am going to continue.”

“We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters,” Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said. “Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return.”

The two men, who were freed in an amnesty that included more than 6,000 prisoners, waved and smiled broadly as they left the jail.

While inside, the duo missed numerous family milestones, including the birth of Wa Lone’s daughter.

Their families were overjoyed with the news.

“We are very happy,” Chit Su Win, who is married to Kyaw Soe Oo, told reporters.

A reunion photograph of both couples celebrating, smiling and holding each of their daughters was widely shared on Twitter.

The case against them became a byword for the war against press freedom and prompted a campaign that attracted the support of prominent rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who yesterday said it had been an “honor to represent” her clients.

Rights groups and legal experts have said that the prosecution’s case was riddled with irregularities.

A whistle-blowing police officer testified during their trial that his superior had ordered his team to trap the reporters in a sting — testimony the judge chose to ignore.

The now-former officer Moe Yan Naing told reporters that he was “delighted” that the families were back together, and expressed interest in meeting the journalists if they wanted to.

Media advocates, the UN and rights organizations praised the release, but slammed the original arrest and conviction.

“We congratulate Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on walking free from unjust imprisonment and applaud that they have now been reunited with their families,” Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said, adding that they should never have been arrested in the first place.

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