Yangon, Myanmar — Two Reuters journalists who were imprisoned for breaking Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act over reporting on security forces’ abuses of Rohingya Muslims were pardoned and released Tuesday. The convictions of Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had drawn condemnation from rights groups, Western governments and press associations, and the two journalists had garnered several awards and other honors.
In April, they shared with their Reuters colleagues the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, one of journalism’s highest honors.The two were freed after President Win Myint issued a blanket pardon for 6,520 prisoners, said Zaw Zaw, chief of Insein Prison in the country’s largest city, Yangon.
Myanmar’s Supreme Court on April 23 had rejected the journalists’ final appeal of their seven-year prison terms. Their convictions were related to reporting on security forces’ abuses of the Muslim Rohingya minority. The reporters contended they were framed because of official displeasure over their reporting.”I want to say that I am very happy today,” Wa Lone said to reporters who had gathered in front of the prison. “I want to thank our friends and families who were trying for our freedom and also to those from all over the world who sympathized with us.””I am really excited to see my family and colleges. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom,” he said.Reuters colleagues drove them away to be reunited with their wives and children.Their wives sent the government a letter in pleading for a pardon, Reuters reported, “not, they said, because their husbands had done anything wrong, but because it would allow them to be released from prison and reunited with their families.”Myanmar’s military launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in the western state of Rakhine in 2017, driving more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.U.N. officials and others charge the campaign amounted to ethnic cleansing, and even genocide. The military has said its actions in Rakhine state were a response to attacks by Rohingya guerrillas, and it did not have a policy violating human rights or the laws of war.