Reuters journalists detained in Myanmar freed

Two Reuters journalists have been released from prison in Myanmar after spending almost a year and a half in detention. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were released on May 6 2019, as part of the country’s annual amnesty that usually follows Thingyan - a festival before the country’s traditional New Year. The festival, which started on April 13, preceded the new year which was celebrated on April 17. The arrests took place while the two journalists were covering violence by Myanmar forces and Buddhist villagers against the ‘stateless’ Muslim Rohingya population in Rakhine state in 2017.

The two journalist had spent more than 500 days in prison after their arrests on December 12 2017. They were charged with violating a British colonial-era law - the Official Secrets Act. At the time of their arrests Reuters reported that police officers lured the duo into a trap by inviting them to dinner on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.

On April 23 2019 Lone and Soe Oo lost their appeal against the seven year sentence handed down in September 2018. While still in detention, the journalists were awarded the the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize on May 2. In announcing the winners, the president of the committee who decided on the winners, Wojciech Tochman, said the two were well deserving of the recognition. “The final choice of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo pays a tribute to their courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.”

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were part of the Reuters team who uncovered the massacre of eight men and two teenage high school students in the Inn Din massacre. Their special report also included confessions from interviews with Buddhist villagers who were among the perpetrators.

Soe Chay, a retired soldier, is a 55-year-old Buddhist Inn Din villager. According to the Reuters report Soe Chay saw the killings and helped dig the mass grave for the 10 victims. “When they were being buried, some were still making noises. Others were already dead,” he told Reuters.

This is a picture taken by a member of Myanmar's security forces before the ten men were shot.

United Nations’ Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, described the patterns of human rights violations by security forces against the Rohingya population as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. The human rights abuses in 2017 sent more than 270 000 of the Rohingya muslim fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Among other atrocities, the Myanmar security forces were accused of laying landmines along the border with Bangladesh, which prompted the UN to establish an International Fact-Finding Mission. The head of the UN mission, Marzuki Darusman, on March 14 2019 said the human rights crisis in Myanmar is far from over. “Human rights violations have not stopped, nor are victims seeing justice. There is an acute need to continue to thoroughly document the patterns of violations being committed, as we speak,” Darusman said.

The mission is still accepting submissions in an attempt to get to the bottom of the facts and circumstances surrounding these alleged human rights violations by military and security forces, which started intensifying in 2011. There is a specific interest in sexual and gender-based violence. The mission urges anybody with with information to send it to before June 1 2019.


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