Two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar for more than 500 days were released today under a presidential pardon.
Wa Lone, 33, (pictured, left) and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were each serving a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted of breaching the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act in September last year.
The pair smiled at cameras as they left Insein Prison in Yangon this morning, with Lone giving his customary thumbs-up gesture (pictured) that has become a symbol both of hope and defiance.
Following their release, Lone told reporters: “I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.”
The pair have been reunited with their families. Lone’s wife had their first child, a daughter, while he was behind bars. Soe Oo has a young daughter who he has only occasionally been able to see.
Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said the news agency was “enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters”, having fought continuously for them to be freed.
He added: “Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: “Having personally raised their case with Aung San Suu Kyi in Sept I am extremely grateful she has listened to me and many others and responded to a clear miscarriage of justice.
“In a world where media freedom is under attack this is a rare glimmer of hope.”
The journalists are among more than 6,000 prisoners released in mass amnesties granted by Myanmar’s President Win Myint since last month, around the time of the country’s traditional New Year.
Their release comes a few days after World Press Freedom Day, which was held internationally on Friday.
Lone and Soe Oo had been reporting on the massacre of ten Rohingya Muslim men in Rakhine State at the hands of paramilitary soldiers and Buddhist villagers – later published in full by Reuters – when they were arrested in December 2017 and detained.
The pair had always maintained they were set up by police to stop their investigation into the killings. An appeal against their sentence was rejected by Myanmar’s Supreme Court in April.
Their conviction came despite the testimony of a police officer during their trial who said police had been told to plant “secret documents” on the journalists at a restaurant in order to “entrap” them.
Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who agreed to represent the Reuters pair, later revealed Police Captain Moe Yan Naing’s “explosive testimony” had seen him charged, “subjected to a false conviction” and jailed.
Lone and Soe Oo have won multiple awards during their time in prison, including the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting and the prizes for Foreign Affairs Journalism and Investigation of the Year (Global) at last year’s British Journalism Awards, run by Press Gazette.
The pair were jointly named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2018, an honour they shared with murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, persecuted Filipino editor Maria Ressa and the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland where five staff members were shot and killed in June last year.
Pictures: Reuters/Ann Wang