Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis have been freed.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were imprisoned for breaking Burma’s Official Secrets Act over reporting on security forces’ abuses of Rohingya Muslims.
Despite Myanmar's Supreme Court rejecting the final appeal of the two against their seven-year prison terms on April 23, the pair were freed after president Win Myint issued a blanket pardon for 6,520 prisoners, said Zaw Zaw, chief of Yangon’s Insein Prison.
Their convictions were related to reporting on security forces’ alleged abuses of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, but the reporters and their supporters had said they were framed because of official displeasure over their reporting.
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.
The Reuters reporters had worked on an investigation of the killings of 10 Rohingya villagers in Inn Din village, for which the government last year said seven soldiers were sentenced to up 10 years in prison with hard labour.
The pair were arrested in December 2017 before the report's publication, after being handed some documents by two policemen who they had met at a restaurant for the first time as they investigated the case.
A police witness testified during the trial that the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists and that his commander had ordered that documents be planted on the journalists.
The two men were charged with illegally possessing official documents, a violation of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
After his testimony, the officer was jailed for a year for violating police regulations and his family was kicked out of police housing.
Speaking after the release of the two men, Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said the company is "enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
“Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world.
"We welcome their return.”
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, shared with their Reuters colleagues the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, one of journalism’s highest honours.
The case drew worldwide attention as an example of how press freedom is suffering under the government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Both journalists said they suffered from harsh treatment during their initial interrogations.
Family members of the two freed men were elated at their release.
Chit Su Win, the wife of Kyaw Soe Oo, said she was waiting at home with their child to be reunited with her husband.
She said she does not know how to express her feelings, but “now the three of us can hug each other and we are so happy for that”.
Thura Aung, the brother of Wa Lone said: “We’re so happy that they got released today. We heard that they would be on the amnesty list. Now it is actually happening, I am so glad for that.”
The United Nations office in Burma said it welcomed the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
“The UN in Myanmar considers the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo a step toward improving the freedom of the press and a sign of Government’s commitment to Myanmar’s transition to democracy,” it said in a statement.