YANGON (Reuters) – Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after they were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act on a Friday on the grounds of spending more than 500 days behind bars, witnesses said.
Reuters Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soooooo In prison after receiving a presidential pardon in Yangon, Myanmar, May 7, 2019. REUTERS / Ann Wang
The two reporters, Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, had been convicted in September and sentenced to seven years in jail, in a case that raised questions about Myanmar's progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomatic and human rights advocates.
President Win Myint has been pardoned thousands of other prisoners in mass amnesties since last month. It is customary in Myanmar for the authorities of the country around the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17.
Reuters has said the two men did not commit any crime and had called for their release.
In the Prison, on the outskirts of the commercial capital of Yangon, a grinning Wa Lone gave a thumbs up and said he was grateful for the international efforts to secure their freedom ,
"I'm really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues.
Before their arrest in December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soo Oo had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar's Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017. The operation was more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to UN estimates.
The Pulse Prize for international reporting in May, featuring the testimony from perpetrators, witnesses and families of the victims, won the Pulitzer Prize for International Journalism. (reut.rs/2KFTSgQ)
Calls to a spokesman for the Myanmar government were not immediately answered.
Myanmar's Supreme Court had rejected the journalists' final appeal in April. They had petitioned the country's top court, citing evidence of a police sentence, after the Yangon High Court was dismissed at an earlier appeal in January.
The reporters' wives wrote a letter to the government in April, pleading for a pardon, they said, because their husbands had done anything wrong, but because they could not.
"MONTHS OF DIALOGUE"
The Reuters journalists were released at the prison of Lord Ara Darzi, a British surgeon and health care expert who has served as a member of Myanmar's government and a Reuters representative. Darzi waited for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo at the gates of In prison on a street where a group of reporters and photographers were expecting to release prisoners.
In a statement to Reuters, Darzi, 59, said the release of "Two Months of Dialogue" with the Government of Myanmar.
"I am delighted that the Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been granted a pardon, and are with their loved ones once more. I know that it will come as a huge relief to their families, friends and colleagues, "Darzi said in the statement.
Darzi said about the pardon for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soo Oo had joined the Myanmar government, Reuters, the United Nations and other governments did not provide more detail on those closed-door talks.
Reuters had no immediate comment.
Darzi has been a member of an advisory commission on a panel headed by former UN chief Kofi Anan on solving the long-running conflict in Myanmar's western region in the state of Rakhine.
Rakhine, on the Bay of Bengal, is the home to most Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown on the region in 2017.
Senior Myanmar government officials, diplomats and some international representatives are meeting in Yangon to discuss Rakhine this week.
"The power of dialogue must be continued in Rakhine State and the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees, whose desperate plight continues. This is essential if Myanmar is to build on today's progress so that all its citizens can live together in dignity in the hope of a better tomorrow, "Darzi said in the statement.
Reporting by Poppy McPherson and Simon Lewis; Editing by Alex Richardson, Robert Birsel