ADDS STATEMENTS FROM JOURNALISTS, FAMILY, RIGHTS GROUPS
By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - Two Reuters journalists in Myanmar who had been jailed for exposing a massacre of Rohingya were freed early Tuesday after spending more than 500 days in prison.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who had been detained since December 2017, were among 6,520 inmates released under a third round of pardons by President Win Myint to celebrate the traditional New Year which began on April 17.
“I am very excited to reunite with family,” Wa Lone told a crowd of reporters.
The duo, after spending a short time talking to colleagues and well-wishers in front of Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison, headed to the Reuters office in downtown Yangon where their wives and kids are waiting for them.
Thet Su Win, wife of Kyaw Soe Oo, told Anadolu Agency that they have been waiting for this moment for a long time.
“This is one of very few best moments in my life,” she said by phone.
The two were each sentenced to seven years in prison in September 2018 over their alleged breach of a colonial-era law for investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017.
- Concern over press freedom
Several local and international rights groups voiced concern over declining press freedom in Myanmar although they welcomed release of the Reuters journalists.
Amnesty International’s East and Southeast Asia director Nicholas Bequelin described the case against the Reuters journalists “a travesty of justice from start to finish”.
“They should never have spent a day in prison,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
He warned that Myanmar still retains a range of repressive laws which have been constantly 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“Until these laws are repealed, journalists and activists remain under a permanent threat of detention and arrest,” he said.
Human Rights Watch said the crisis is not over for Myanmar journalists and bloggers who are facing criminal charges for criticizing military and government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Myanmar's faltering respect for media freedom indicates the dire situation facing human rights and democracy," said deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.
Myanmar authorities last month engaged in a series of arrest and charges of peaceful critics of the military and government, according to the watchdog.
- Rohingya persecution
The UK-based Burmese Rohingya Organization said that Rohingya community stands with Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
“The only people that should be locked up for the Rohingya genocide are those that committed it, not those that helped expose it,” said its founder Tun Khin in a statement.
Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
The UN has also documented mass gang rapes, killings – including of infants and young children – and brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces.
In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity and genocidal intent.