The government of Myanmar on Tuesday released two Reuters journalists who were imprisoned for more than a year amid an international outcry over press freedom.
Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, had been jailed since late 2017 over allegations that they received documents containing state secrets from a police officer. The government accused the pair of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, but press freedom advocates accused officials of drumming up charges in retribution for their reporting on the crackdown of the Rohingya minority group.
“I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom,” Wa Lone said outside of Insein Prison in Yangon, according to a report from Reuters.
The international news service confirmed on social media that the pair had been released.
The journalists’ release is a striking development in a case that has attracted international attention. Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected their appeal at the end of last month and said they would have to continue serving their seven-year prison term.
At the time of their arrests, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the country, which was reportedly carried out by Myanmar troops and Buddhist villagers. Their story on the event was published by Reuters in February 2018 while they remained in jail.
Reuters ultimately won a 2019 Pulitzer Prize for its work covering the mass expulsion of the Rohingya, and both Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were recognized for their notable contributions to the stories. The pair were also recognized as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” alongside others in the media last year.
Myanmar has drawn international condemnation for its treatment of the Rohingya, who had mostly resided in the country’s Rakhine state. Hundreds of thousands of people were violently forced from their homes and ultimately settled in neighboring Bangladesh. The U.S. House of Representatives declared the event a genocide last December, and the United Nations Human Rights Council has called for a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for any violence.
The event has also recast the political career of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who was released from house arrest in 2010 and later become Myanmar’s de facto head of state. Many had championed her ascension, saying it would lead to a more Democratic process in the country after decades of military rule.
But after the treatment of the Rohingya and the imprisonment of many journalists, Aung San Suu Kyi has instead been accused of quashing any dissension against her leadership.
This article has been updated with more details on the Reuters journalists and their coverage.