Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar released after over 500 days

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

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo

Wa Lone, 33 and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29 were released after a presidential amnesty. They spent more than 500 days in prison on the outskirts of Yangon.

They had been convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in jail last September.

Their jailing was seen as an assault on press freedom and raised questions about Myanmar's democracy.

As he left the prison, Wa Lone told media outlets he would never stop being a journalist.

"I'm really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can't wait to go to my newsroom," he also told reporters.

Both men have families with young children. Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon, only discovered she was pregnant after her husband's arrest. He has only seen his daughter a handful of times on her visits to prison.

The journalists were released along with thousands of other prisoners as part of mass amnesties that take place annually around Myanmar's new year.

Reuters' Editor-in-Chief said the reporters, who last month won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for their reporting, had become "symbols" of press freedom.

"We are enormously pleased Myanmar has released our courageous reporters," Stephen J Adler said in a statement.

The pair are Myanmar citizens who were working for the international news agency Reuters.

They had been collecting evidence about the murders of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine in September 2017.

They were arrested before the report's publication, after being handed some documents by two police officers who they had met at a restaurant for the first time.

A police witness testified during the trial that the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists.

The final report, a collaboration with other journalists, was considered extraordinary, because it gathered testimonies from a range of participants, including Buddhist villagers who confessed to killing Rohingya Muslims and torching their homes. Accounts from paramilitary police also directly implicated the military.

The military had previously released its own investigation into allegations of abuse in Rakhine, and exonerated itself of wrongdoing, despite large amounts of testimony from Rohingya refugees describing atrocities.

Authorities later launched their own probe into the Inn Din killings, confirming the massacre had taken place and promising to take action against those who had taken part.

Seven soldiers were sentenced to prison for their involvement in the killings.

The military said the soldiers would serve ten years with hard labour for "contributing and participating in murder".

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