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Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar for 500 days have been released

Last month the pair was handed the prestigious Pulitzer prize for their work.

Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw She Oo (R)
Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw She Oo (R)
Image: Thein Zaw

TWO JOURNALISTS WHO were jailed for more than 500 days in Myanmar for reporting on the Rohingya crisis have been released. 

Wa Lone (33) and Kyaw Soe Oo (29) were convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison last October after covering the persecution of Rohingya people in Myanmar for Reuters. 

The pair was pardoned after a months-long international campaign put pressure on the once revered leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Wa Lone thanked advocates for their campaigning and said he was looking forward to returning to work. 

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

Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said: “We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters.

“Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return.”

At the time of their arrest, they had been reporting on a September 2017 massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims in conflict-hit Rakhine state, where the Myanmar army forced some 740,000 of the stateless minority to flee over the border to Bangladesh.

The Rohingya crisis has been escalating in recent years and Myanmar has become a no-go zone for many journalists who risk been jailed. 

It has seen widespread condemnation for leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her human rights work. 

Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy party to victory in historic 2015 polls, ending decades of military-backed rule.

But the dreams of a new day for Myanmar were short-lived after the army’s campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which UN investigators have said amounted to genocide.

“We are very happy,” Chit Su Win, who is married to Kyaw Soe Oo said. A reunion photo of both couples celebrating, smiling and holding each of their daughters was widely shared on Twitter.

Myanmar Journalists Kyaw Soe Oo (L) and Wa Lone (R) with their families Source: ANN WANG

During their imprisonment the journalists were showered with numerous awards and honours in response to their work.

Last month, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo won the prestigious Pulitzer prize.

They were also featured earlier on the cover of TIME magazine as part of its person of the year coverage featuring journalists targeted for their reporting.

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

Rights groups and legal experts say the prosecution’s case was riddled with irregularities.

A whistleblowing 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.

With reporting from - © AFP 2019

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