Release of Myanmar journalists hints at power of public attention


Rohingya refugees flee what the UN termed “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar in 2017. Photo from Tasnim News Agency via Wikimedia Commons.

We were thrilled to learn that Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were freed on May 7 after more than 500 days in prison in Yangon. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists had been sentenced to seven years in detention for receiving secret documents from security forces in Myanmar while researching a 2017 massacre of Rohingya Muslims. They were among more than 6,000 prisoners released under a sweeping presidential pardon.

In April, Myanmar’s supreme court denied Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s final appeal. The government did not say why the two men were included in the pardon, but they were the subject of an intensive publicity campaign by human rights and press freedom groups around the world.

We join PEN America and the Committee to Protect Journalists in applauding the release, and support Amnesty International’s call for “genuine press freedom” in its wake. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch both point out that the Myanmar government continues to detain commentators and reporters for doing their work.

“[T]he crisis is not over for the literally dozens of other Burmese journalists and bloggers who are still facing baseless criminal charges for their reporting,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. 


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