Two Reuters journalists, jailed in Myanmar after being convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act, have been freed after more than 500 days behind bars.
The two reporters, Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were convicted in September and sentenced to seven years in jail in a case that raised questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.
“I am a journalist and I am going to continue,” Wa Lone told a crowd of reporters outside the Insein prison in Yangon. “I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Myanmar said it will release 6,520 prisoners in an amnesty, according to a statement from the president’s office.
President Win Myint pardoned thousands of prisoners in two mass amnesties last month. It is customary in Myanmar for authorities to free prisoners around the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17.
“We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters,” Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said in a statement.
“Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return.”
Reuters has said the two men did not commit any crime and had called for their release.
AFP graphic on two Reuters journalists in Myanmar who were jailed for seven years in September 2018 for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis and have just been freed following a presidential amnesty @AFPgraphics pic.twitter.com/GoOL6t0Smi
— AFP news agency (@AFP) May 7, 2019
Before their arrest in December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo 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 during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.
The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations’ estimates.
The report the two men authored, featuring testimony from perpetrators, witnesses and families of the victims, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in May, adding to a number of accolades received by the pair for their journalism.
Read the incredibly important Pulitzer-price winning work by these two brave journalists here: https://t.co/HyxeAGNZv1
— James Pearson (@pearswick) May 7, 2019
Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected the journalists’ final appeal in April. They had petitioned the country’s top court, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime, after the Yangon High Court dismissed an earlier appeal in January.
“The Rohingya story has been at the forefront of this country for many years now,” Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok, said.
“There was a lot of pressure on the effective leader of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi – this was someone who once championed democracy, freedom of speech and human rights in the country – to really do something. But she failed to act on that story.”