Myanmar frees Reuters journalists

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01:33 mins.
07.05.2019

Mynamar journalists released

The two reporters were arrested in Myanmar in late 2017. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

Two Reuters journalists who were jailed in Myanmar in 2017 for breaking the Official Secrets Act have been released from prison, the news agency reported Tuesday.

Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, won a 2019 Pulitzer Prize during their more than 500 days in captivity.

Both men left the gates of Insein Prison, near Yangon, surrounded by media and well-wishers. A smiling Wa Lone gave a thumbs-up, and said he was grateful for international efforts to secure their release.

"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.

A court had convicted the men in September and sentenced them to seven years in prison.  The Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against the sentence in April.

President Win Myint has pardoned thousands in mass amnesties over the past month. Authorities in Myanmar customarily release prisoners about the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17.

Read more: UN: Attacks in Myanmar's Rakhine state could be 'war crimes'

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03:24 mins.
DW News | 02.11.2018

Press freedom under attack in Myanmar

Both men had been writing an article on their investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces before their arrest.

Reuters said the pair did not commit any crime, and it had called for their release.

"We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters," said Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler.

Violence against the minority Rohingya group caused more than 730,000 people to flee into neighboring Bangladesh, according to UN figures.

The UN and other human rights groups have accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Rohingya in Bangladesh resist repatriation attempt

Rohingya protests blocked Bangladesh repatriation efforts

150 Rohingya Muslims were meant to be repatriated to Myanmar on Thursday, but protests put a stop to the operation. Hundreds of people chanted "we will not go" at a demonstration near the Myanmar border, and Bangladeshi authorities acknowledged that none of the refugees who were meant to be repatriated showed up or wanted to return.

Rohingya in Bangladesh resist repatriation attempt

UN and human rights groups critical of repatriation

Bangladesh had agreed with Myanmar to repatriate a total of more than 2,200 people, including Sitara Begum and her son Mohammed. The move has been criticized by the United Nations and aid groups. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said sending the refugees back would be like "throwing them back to the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades."

Rohingya in Bangladesh resist repatriation attempt

Rohingyas report fleeing killings, destruction and rape

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled army-led violence in Myanmar, mainly in the second half of 2017, are living in Bangladesh. The Rohingya refugees claim Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist civilians massacred families, destroyed villages and carried out gang rapes. UN investigators have accused the army of "genocidal intent."

Rohingya in Bangladesh resist repatriation attempt

'I will not go'

Nurul Amin is on the first list of people to be repatriated to Myanmar. The 35-year old lives with his wife and family in the Jamtoli refugee camp, in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh. "I will not go. My wife and other family members have gone elsewhere, they do not want to go," he said. Refugees refuse to go back to Myanmar out of fear for their safety.

Rohingya in Bangladesh resist repatriation attempt

One million people live in Bangladesh refugee camps

More than a million Rohingya Muslims live in refugee camps in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh. The poor South Asian country has struggled to deal with the humanitarian crisis, and living conditions in the refugee camps are dire. UN agencies say they have received only a fraction of the billions of dollars of aid money needed to run their operations in the area.

Concern over press freedom

The two journalists attracted the support of prominent rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represented them in court. Rights groups and legal experts said the case was riddled with irregularities.

"It has been an honour 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," Clooney said.

Steven Butler, of the Committee to Protect Journalists told DW that the imprisonment had been a "move by the military to intimidate other journalists." The fact the men remained in jail so long despite international pressure showed that "the military had achieved its goals and there was no point keeping the men in any longer."

Butler added that his organization, which helped int he effort to secure the journalists' release, did not see "any evidence" that efforts to supress press freedom would ease any time soon.

amp,rc/rt (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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