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A Dark Anniversary for Press Freedom in Myanmar

Reuters Journalists Mark One Year in Prison

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo sit beside police officers as they leave Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar July 9, 2018.  © 2018 Reuters

It’s been one year since Myanmar police arrested Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on December 12, 2017. Over the past year, Myanmar’s increasingly restricted state of press freedom has been laid bare for the world to see.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been imprisoned since their arrest while investigating a massacre by the military in the village of Inn Din in Rakhine State. On September 30, a court convicted them of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act and sentenced both to seven years in prison. 

Their conviction in the face of strong evidence that the police handed them documents as part of a plan to trap and arrest them has sent a chill through the Myanmar media. “After the Reuters journalists were arrested, most journalists were asking ‘Who will be the next victim?’” said a local journalist. “We are always asking ourselves, ‘What if we print that story? Will there be a problem for us?’” Reporting on abuses by the military and Rohingya Muslims is considered particularly risky.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo took the risk to investigate and uncover such compelling evidence of a massacre that even the military could not disregard the truth. In April, two months after Reuters published its investigation, the military announced that seven soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for their part in the massacre.

The world is finally catching up to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s act of bravery: the two were featured in Time magazine’s Person of the Year issue identifying “the Guardians and the War on Truth.” Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Su Kyi should immediately request President Win Myint to grant them a full pardon. The parliament should then move swiftly to amend the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and other repressive laws so they conform to international human rights standards. Myanmar’s leaders need to stop making excuses and end once and for all the abusive laws being used to arrest and imprison journalists simply for doing their job.

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