The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) hails the release of convicted Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were charged under the 1923 Official Secrets Act.
They were among the 6,520 prisoners pardoned by President Win Myint on Tuesday, 7 May. The two courageous journalists were in a Insein jail for 511 days.
“The release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is a rare triumph of justice in a country that has increasingly witnessed a clampdown on independent media under the watch of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Tess Bacalla, executive director of SEAPA. “They should never have been jailed in the first place, because they committed no crime.”
She adds: “We hope that their release turns a new leaf in the fight for press freedom and free expression in the country, where many democratic promises have yet to be fulfilled.”
Before their arrest in December 2017, Wa Lone, 33,and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, had reported on a massacre of 10 Rohingya villagers by seven Myanmar soldiers in the western Rakhine state. They were charged for reporting “with an intention to damage the safety and interest of the State.”
Despite appeals by the media and human rights advocates all over the world, the Myanmar Supreme Court upheld in April 2019 the seven-year sentence slapped on the two journalists.
“While we welcome this positive development, the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is proof positive that journalists are in constant risk of political reprisal for keeping power in check,” Bacalla said.
“We hope that the grant of presidential pardon to the two journalists is not an isolated act meant only to temper a global backlash brought about by the two reporters’ arrest and conviction.
“The regional and global communities advocating for press freedom will be keeping a close watch on what comes next in Myanmar now that the two journalists are out of prison. It’s one thing to free two incarcerated journalists and it’s another to give free rein to all others who must do their job to keep the public informed,” she said.
SEAPA’s World Press Freedom Report 2019 showed Myanmar’s deteriorating democracy with a “partly free” classification by Freedom House and a “difficult” status in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders.
Click on the following links for more information about the detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the 2019 country reports on press freedom in Myanmar (“Press Freedom in More Peril Than Ever”, “Broken Promises Put the Press in Peril” and related SEAPA campaigns.