Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has praised the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from a prison in the Yangon suburb of Insein as a victory for press freedom and investigative reporting in Myanmar and throughout the world.
The two reporters had spent a total of 511 days far from their families because they dared to investigate a subject that is banned in Myanmar, the genocide of the country’s Rohingya minority.
Held on trumped-up evidence after being arrested in a trap set by the police in December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted last September of violating the Official Secrets Act and were given seven-year jail sentences that were confirmed twice on appeal, reports RSF.
They were finally pardoned by President Win Myint and released on Tuesday.
Head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk Daniel Bastard hailed the release as a victory for press freedom and investigative journalism.
“As well as the release of two individuals who should never have been in prison – Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – this is a fundamental victory for press freedom and for RSF, which had campaigned constantly ever since their arrest,” he said.
“Their case is emblematic of investigative journalism’s importance for the functioning of democracies. We hail the role played by all those civil society actors who, both in Myanmar and internationally, never forgot the fate of these two journalists and kept fighting for them until this successful outcome.”
A month after their arrest, RSF launched a petition for their release to draw the public’s attention to their case.
After their conviction in September 2018, RSF addressed an open letter to government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, deploring her handling of the case and reminding her how press freedom had previously helped her fight for democracy.
The following month, RSF issued a “incident report” about the threat to Myanmar’s position in the World Press Freedom Index.
When their lawyer filed an appeal in November 2018, RSF and more than 50 other international and local NGOs issued a joint letter highlighting the many flaws and inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.
In January 2019, RSF supported the candidacies of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, which they were awarded last month.
“Today’s release must not eclipse the fact that investigative reporters in Myanmar now have a permanent threat hanging over them,” reports RSF.
RSF had predicted last December that a presidential pardon could be granted after all appeal possibilities had been exhausted but, at the same time, it had warned of the problems in this scenario.
“The civilian authorities have finally made a show of clemency but the journalists’ conviction has been upheld, maintaining a dangerous judicial precedent that allows the military and nationalists to save face,” reports RSF.
“Although Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are finally reunited with their families, a message has been sent to all other journalists that they too could face 18 months in prison if they dare to investigate subjects that are off limits.”
Myanmar is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, one place lower than in 2018.