SAN FRANCISCO, May 07, (THEWILL) – Two Reuters journalists jailed for their reports on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar walked out of prison on Tuesday, freed in a presidential amnesty after a vigorous global campaign for their release.
Their December 2017 arrests made them an international cause and a sign of Myanmar’s deteriorating press freedoms under Nobel laureate and civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were mobbed by media as they stepped out of Yangon’s notorious Insein prison after more than 16 months in detention.
Lone, 33, thanked people from “around the world” for advocating for their release and vowed 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.”
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.”
They were freed in an amnesty that included more than 6,000 prisoners.
A government spokesman told reporters that family members had sent letters to Suu Kyi and the president Win Myint.
“After leaders took into consideration the long-term interest of (the) country, two Reuters journalists were released,” spokesman Zaw Htay said.
The two men waved and smiled broadly as they walked out of the jail.
The pair were convicted on charges of violating the official secrets act and sentenced to seven years each.
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 case prompted an outcry around the world and crushed what was left of Suu Kyi’s legacy as a rights defender.