Reuters journalists Wa Lone, left, and Kyaw Soe Oo wave as they walk out of prison in Myanmar on May 7, 2019. (Thein Zaw/AP Photo)

Release of Myanmar journalists lauded by UN, human rights groups

After more than 500 days behind bars, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were pardoned and released from prison in Myanmar on May 7, 2010. The UN human rights office praised the release but said a “very dire situation” remains for freedom of expression in Myanmar. That reaction was echoed by Amnesty International Canada’s Alex Neve.

Further arrests since mid-April

“There is so much more that needs to change,” says Neve. “Certainly in our statement welcoming, celebrating their release we’ve highlighted at the same time, just in the last few weeks we’ve noted once again a crackdown on critics including journalists in the country, a number of further arrests that have happened since the middle of April…

“These are individuals who in some way, shape or form have…expressed criticism of the military.”

Neve says Myanmar has several repressive laws that need to be repealed.

The reporters were investigating the abuses that caused hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee Myanmar and seek refuge in Bangladesh. Bernat Armangue/AP Photo/Sept. 2, 2017)

International pressure relentlessly applied

The release of the Reuters journalists was accomplished thanks to heavy international pressure from governments including Canada, campaigns by human rights groups like Amnesty International and letters sent by journalists and others. There were also quieter efforts made behind the scenes by the United Nations. In addition, Myanmar often releases prisoners to mark its New Year. In this case, over 6,000 people were freed.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been reporting on security forces’ abuses of Rohingya Muslims when they were arrested.  More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. UN officials and others alleged the campaign against them amounted to ethnic cleansing, and even genocide.

Neve called the reporters’ arrests and detention a travesty of free expression and media freedom.

(Photo: Paul Thompson)

Amnesty International Canada’s Alex Neve applauds news of the journalists’ release at a time when “press freedom is very much under attack.” Hear his reaction.

‘Press freedom is very much under attack’

Neve says the release of these two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists is good news, particularly now.

“It comes at a time when press freedom is very much under attack…In many countries there’s been a significant crackdown against journalists. There’s a lot of vilification and derision of journalism as a profession, the whole world of fake news for instance.

“It really is important that we remind ourselves of the crucial role that journalists play in so many respects…an absolutely essential part of the struggle to uphold human rights.”

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