Reuters reporters U Wa Lone and U Kyaw Soe Oo, Reuters
Updated: We continue today on the theme of media, journalism, a free press–writ global–and the necessity of journalists providing information to the public as a basic requirement for human rights to be protected for all.
Today was a great day for the world in terms of journalism and human rights.
Reuters reporters U Wa Lone and U Kyaw Soe Oo–whose courage like so many journalists risking their lives and too often losing them in similar situations is legendary–were freed from prison in Myanmar (May 6 in the US, May 7 in Myanmar) after a year resulting from exposing the military’s horrid human rights atrocities against the Rohingya minority group.
The two journalists had just won the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting and it’s heartening–and critical–that international pressure to free them had a successful impact.
We leave the rest to the reporters, from BBC News, The New York Times and Reuters.
And in an update today, May 7, we add an excellent and important report from PBS NewsHour where John Yang talks to Priscilla Clapp, a former U.S. diplomat who served as chief of mission in the American embassy in Myanmar. Her insights about the complexities and limitations of Aung San Suu Kyi being “between a rock and a hard place”, and the impact she may have had in the release of the journalists, are noteworthy.
The UN just began a process in the current refugee crisis in headlines that could lead to the generals in Myanmar, or Burma as many in the pro-reform anti-military dictatorship circles still refer to it as, being charged with genocide against Rohingyas. Clearly deserved. And though Aung San Suu Kyi has no real power, she too will be held accountable for her decisions, as she already has been in reputation. She walks her own knife’s edge. It’s heartbreaking to watch someone who suffered imprisonment for so many years for democracy and human rights take the path she apparently has, in which journalists exposing the terror imposed on the Rohingyas are now imprisoned. Her relationship with the generals is fraught, public posturing aside. She had been over many years, among other things, a powerful feminist symbol of rebellion against patriarchal brutality. The history, multi-ethnic group and political situation in Myanmar is extremely complex and the horrible situation now could easily become many times worse. But Suu Kyi must know that when certain lines are crossed, the option of not standing publicly and clearly against it ceases to exist and whatever one’s private motives or perspective, public denunciation must be accepted if one fails to do this. Her quote on ignorance being the root of evil was on our site from the start of World Campaign nearly twenty years ago, while she was imprisoned. We kept it up over the last couple of years until recently out of hope, prodding and a reminder. And we are in the middle of a long-term change of the site. But her name needed to be removed.
Following is today’s transcript from PBS NewsHour, followed by the articles in the BBC News, The New York Times and Reuters.
Judy Woodruff and John Yang, May 7, 2019 PBS NewsHour
After nearly 18 months, two Reuters journalists have left prison in Myanmar. The crime that put them there: Revealing information the country’s government wanted to suppress, about its persecution campaign against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority. John Yang talks to Priscilla Clapp, a former U.S. diplomat who served as chief of mission in the American embassy in Myanmar, about the developments.
After nearly 18 months in captivity, two Reuters journalists walked out of prison today in Myanmar. Their crime? Reporting news the government there did not want known about its campaign of persecution against the Rohingya Muslim people.
Their reporting recently won the Pulitzer Prize, among other prestigious honors.
As John Yang tells us, their plight garnered worldwide attention, and their release brought relief and joy.
A thumbs up and a wave today, as Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo Kyaw walked to freedom. They were swarmed by cameras after leaving Yangon’s notorious Insein prison.
I’m really happy, and excited to see my family and my colleagues. And I can’t wait to go to my newsroom now.
The two Reuters journalists were arrested in December 2017. They had been investigating a brutal military campaign that forced some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
Authorities in mostly Buddhist Myanmar charged the journalists had secret government documents. And, last September, they were convicted of breaking state secrecy laws and given seven-year sentences.
The two men argued they were targeted for their reporting, and their case sparked a global campaign for their release. Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was accused of not doing enough to stop the persecution of Rohingya or to free the journalists.
Today, without explanation, the pair were included in a mass pardon of more than 6,500 prisoners.
Reuters editor-in-chief Steve Adler:
Stephen J. Adler:
Since their arrest 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return.
On Twitter, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also welcomed their release.
As the journalists celebrated with their families today, there was no apology from Myanmar’s military, which still controls much of the government.
Their release was part of an annual amnesty marking the nation’s traditional new year, which began last month.
We are now joined by Priscilla Clapp, whose long career as a U.S. diplomat includes time as chief of mission in the embassy in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma. She’s now senior adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Asia Society.
Priscilla Clapp, thanks so much for joining us.
Help us understand what is — what was going on here. The defenders of these two journalists said they were set up. Remind us of the circumstances of their arrest.
They work for Reuters, as the news clip said. And they are experienced investigative journalists.
They went out to the northern Rakhine State after the exodus of the Rohingya and the violence against them to do some investigative reporting, and they came upon a village called Inn Din. And there were people there willing to talk about a massacre that had occurred at the hands of the army, the police, the security forces.
One of the local officials — I don’t know that he was an official. He might have been a village chief, but he was actually a Rakhine Buddhist — had taken pictures of it with his phone and shared the information with the reporters, showing the massacre of these young men, the Rohingya men.
They brought this back to Yangon. And, of course, Reuters was going to do a report on it. But the police and the military knew that they had picked it up, so they set them up. They — two police invited them to a restaurant or a tea shop to meet and handed them a sealed envelope.
Before they could open the envelope, as they were getting up to leave, they were quickly arrested by the police.
So they were arrested for having the documents that they were given.
When they didn’t know what they were.
Why — they appealed this, their convictions. The Supreme Court turned them down last month. Why do you think they were released now?
The process of — the legal process had been fully exhausted.
And I think that the state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, is — she’s very concerned about restoring the rule of law to the country. And so she is trying to make an example of the process, of the legal process, and she wanted the legal process to run its course, which it did with the final Supreme Court denial.
Her reputation has taken a beating in this.
It has, yes.
Nobel Peace Prize winner, former political prisoner herself.
Critics say that she should have done more to help these political prisoners. But you seem to be saying it’s a little more nuanced.
It is quite a bit more nuanced, because she’s not in charge of the courts.
The civilian leadership is not in charge of the legal process. It is still under control of the military. The military controls key parts of the government, under their constitution, the 2008 constitution which brought the transition.
And so this setup was impervious to civilian intervention. And if she had tried to pardon them earlier or free them earlier, they probably would have resisted. The military, the court system would have resisted.
But she’s not the one who pardoned them. It’s the president. Now, that’s something that is guaranteed in the constitution. The president has the right to pardon prisoners, but after they have been sentenced, so after the process has finished.
So, you’re saying that, by waiting, she was trying — she is trying to reestablish the legal process?
I believe so. That is my thinking about it, why it took so long.
I think that she wanted to guarantee that the legal process took its full course. And she has to also probably make sure that the military is comfortable with the decision when it was finally taken.
It’s not an easy situation that she’s in. She really is between a rock and a hard place.
Explain that. Explain her position, I mean, her role. And help us understand her role in the government, without getting too weedy here.
Well, first of all, the constitution doesn’t allow her to be president, because she has foreigners in her nuclear family. Her two sons are foreigners.
So anyone with a foreigner in their nuclear family cannot be president, according to the constitution. Many people think it was deliberately because of her. But it existed even before.
At any rate, so, when her party won a great victory, she, as head of the party, should have been nominated as president, but she couldn’t be because of the constitution. So her lawyers found another position that had been inserted into the constitution to take care of the old military leaders, in case they still wanted to be in the government. But they didn’t. So it was just sitting there, undefined.
Her lawyers defined it, state counselor. And they made it really quite high, as she says, sort of above the president. But it really depends upon her ability to make it that way.
Priscilla Clapp, former chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma, thank you so much for explaining this to us.
Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis have been freed.
Wa Lone, 33 and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29 were released after a presidential amnesty. They spent more than 500 days in prison on the outskirts of Yangon.
They had been convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in jail last September.
Their jailing was seen as an assault on press freedom and raised questions about Myanmar’s democracy.
As he left the prison, Wa Lone vowed to continue his reporting and said he was excited to return to work at the international news agency.
“I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom,” he told reporters.
Both men have families with young children. Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, only discovered she was pregnant after her husband’s arrest. He has only seen his daughter a handful of times on her visits to prison.
The journalists were released along with thousands of other prisoners as part of mass amnesties that take place annually around Myanmar’s new year.
There were chaotic scenes as the journalists were freed.
This was a press pack reporting on two of its own. It has been been personal for many Burmese reporters. They feared they too could end up in jail if the authorities didn’t like what they were writing.
The Reuters reporters may now be free but Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has watched them languish in jail for 18 months.
In that time, the authorities have arrested more journalists and activists which has prompted serious concerns about the future direction of the country.
What were they investigating?
The pair are Myanmar citizens who were working for international news agency Reuters.
They had been collecting evidence about the murders of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine in September 2017.
The military had previously released its own investigation into allegations of abuse in Rakhine, and exonerated itself of wrongdoing, despite large amounts of testimony from Rohingya refugees describing atrocities.
Authorities later launched their own probe into the Inn Din killings, confirming the massacre had taken place and promising to take action against those who had taken part.
Seven soldiers were sentenced to prison for their involvement in the killings.
The military said the soldiers would serve 10 years with hard labour for “contributing and participating in murder”.
By Russell Goldman and Mike Ives, May 7, 2019, The New York Times
HONG KONG — Two prizewinning Reuters journalists were released from prison in Myanmar on Tuesday after more than a year in detention for covering the country’s deadly crackdown on the Rohingya minority group, ending a drama that had brought global scrutiny upon the country’s de facto civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
On Tuesday morning, they were mobbed by reporters as they emerged from Insein Prison in Yangon, the country’s largest city. They were both smiling as they walked away from the prison’s gates in the sunshine. Mr. Wa Lone flashed a thumbs-up sign.
“I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues,” he told reporters. “I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.”
Wa Lone, Pulitzer Prize-winner, minutes after his release from prison. “I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.” #WaLoneKyawSoeOo
Stephen Adler, the editor in chief of Reuters, in a statement praised the men as “courageous reporters.”
“Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world,” Mr. Adler said. “We welcome their return.”
The two reporters were released as part of a wider presidential pardon that freed more than 6,000 prisoners.
Their case had become an international cause célèbre, with journalists, human rights activists and world leaders calling for their release. And their arrest, like the ethnic conflict they were covering, was a turning point in the West’s perception of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former political prisoner who had once been seen as an international force for democracy and tolerance.
When Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi became the country’s de facto civilian leader in 2016 after her political party swept landmark elections a year earlier, many people in Myanmar and beyond thought she would promote those same values while in office.
Instead, she has often allied herself with the military, which shares power with civilian leaders under Myanmar’s military-imposed constitution.
In 2017, the military set off an intense international backlash by carrying out what the United Nations has called a genocide of the Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic minority whose members had lived in the western state of Rakhine for generations. The military killed thousands of people, burning villages, raping women and girls and forcing more than 750,000 to flee across the border into Bangladesh, where they now live in refugee camps.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has also presided since 2016 over what rights activists say is a crackdown on free speech. Since her party took power, the number of journalists arrested in Myanmar has increased to 43, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report.
Her government’s detention of Mr. Wa Lone and Mr. Kyaw Soe Oo, who were convicted of violating a state secrets law, was widely seen as a prime example of that crackdown.
Their defense lawyers argued that the evidence in the case was planted by the police and that the rolled-up documents they were handed contained information that was already public. The reporters testified at trial that they were arrested so quickly that they never had a chance to look at the documents.
In April, they lost their final appeal in Myanmar’s Supreme Court. After that decision, a lawyer for the men said their last chance at release was through petitioning the country’s legislature or its president, U Win Myint.
On Tuesday, U Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer for the journalists, thanked Mr. Win Myint for releasing his clients. “He has fulfilled the hopes of the international community and their family members,” he said.
Mr. Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, thanked the government for releasing her husband and his colleague, and said that she would not hold a grudge against it.
“I have no words to express my happiness,” she said.
Meanwhile, praise for Mr. Wa Lone and Mr. Kyaw Soe Oo poured in from around the world.
The United Nations office in Myanmar said in a statement that it welcomed their release and considered the move a step toward improving press freedom and a sign of the government’s “commitment to Myanmar’s transition to democracy.”
Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America, a nonprofit group that advocates freedom of expression, said in a Twitter thread that the journalists were courageous for never wavering in their claims of innocence.
“They have long and important careers ahead of them carrying out the essential work of holding Myanmar’s fledgling new government accountable and keeping their country’s deserving public informed,” she added.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that while he welcomed their release, dozens of other journalists and bloggers in Myanmar were still facing what he called “baseless” criminal charges for having reported on the military or officials in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy.
(Reuters) – Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed in Myanmar after they were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act, walked free from prison on Tuesday after spending more than 500 days behind bars.
Following are comments and reactions:
SPOKESMAN FOR UN SECRETARY GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES:
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was relieved to learn of the release of the Reuters reporters, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
STEVE ADLER, REUTERS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF:
“We are 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.”
JEREMY HUNT, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY:
“Having personally raised their case with (Myanmar leader) Aung San Suu Kyi in September, 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.”
LORD ARA DARZI, MEMBER OF MYANMAR ADVISORY GROUP:
“This outcome shows that dialogue works, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
“The power of dialogue must be turned toward securing a lasting peace in Rakhine State and the return of the hundreds of thousands of refugees, whose desperate plight continues.”
TUN KHIN, PRESIDENT OF BURMESE ROHINGYA ORGANIZATION UK:
“The only people that should be locked up for the Rohingya genocide are those that committed it, not those that helped expose it.
“The Rohingya community stands with U Wa Lone and U Kyaw Soe Oo today, just as we have every day of their unlawful imprisonment by this complicit Burmese regime.”
NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL:
“The case against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo was a travesty of justice from start to finish and they should never have spent a day in prison.
“While all those who campaigned for their release welcome the government’s decision, the reality is the country retains a range of repressive laws used to detain journalists, activists and any perceived critic of the authorities.
“Until these laws are repealed, journalists and activists remain under a permanent threat of detention and arrest.”
SHAWN CRISPIN, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS:
“CPJ … reiterates that Myanmar should never have charged and jailed them in the first place.
“May their release herald a new era of press freedom in Myanmar, where reporters no longer fear reprisal merely for doing their jobs.”
PHIL ROBERTSON, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH:
“These courageous investigative journalists should have never been arrested, much less imprisoned, in the first place and their release is long overdue.
“Time to act on the problem that Myanmar’s faltering respect for media freedom indicates the dire situation facing human rights and democracy as the country moves toward national elections in 2020.”
DUTCH EMBASSY IN MYANMAR:
“We applaud the President and the government of Myanmar for having taken this positive step. It was the right thing to do.”
UNITED NATIONS IN MYANMAR:
“The UN in Myanmar welcomes the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from prison. 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.
“The UN stands ready to continue to support Myanmar in its complex transition process.”
AMAL CLOONEY, COUNSEL TO WA LONE, KYAW SOE OO AND REUTERS:
“Since taking on this case over a year ago, I have witnessed incredible determination by Reuters, in particular editor-in-chief Steve Adler and Chief Counsel Gail Gove, in their pursuit of justice for their brave reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
“It is inspiring to see a news organization so committed to the protection of innocent men and the profession of journalism.
“It has been an honor to represent Reuters and the two journalists in this case and I hope that their release signals a renewed commitment to press freedom in Myanmar.”
SUZANNE NOSSEL, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF PEN AMERICA:
“Although Myanmar has failed shamefully to redress the injustice of their trumped-up arrest and conviction on spurious evidence, we are relieved that their ordeal behind bars is over.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have proven their courage and fortitude, never once wavering in their claims of innocence.”
BAERBEL KOFLER, GERMANY’S COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS:
“I am pleased that the two Reuters journalists were released after a presidential amnesty today. This is an important humanitarian gesture which I greatly welcome. Press freedom is key to the further democratization in #Myanmar.”
Editing by Darren Schuettler and Clarence Fernandez