Two journalists from the international news agency Reuters were freed from prison in Myanmar on Tuesday. They had been convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act and had spent more than 500 days in jail.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Seo Oo had both been sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The pair pleaded not guilty. They maintained that they were operating normally, as journalists, reporting on the civil war-torn state of Rakhine.
They also said that they were deliberately tricked into their current position. They were invited to dinner by members of the police, who handed them documents. Shortly afterwards, they were arrested by other police officers.
It is understood that they benefitted from an amnesty announced by President Win Myint. It is regular practice in Myanmar for authorities to free prisoners around the time of the traditional New Year, which began in mid-April.
Their case was widely regarded in the West as an example of stifling press freedom in Myanmar, where a civil government operates at the pleasure of the former military rulers.
The journalists had been reporting on the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men. Their report was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in May last year. The Myanmar military said it was conducting legitimate measures counter insurgency measure. It later confirmed that the 10 men had been killed.
Reuters and international organizations including the United Nations have maintained pressure on the Myanmar government to release the journalists. Courts in Myanmar had twice rejected appeals by the pair.
“We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return,” said Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler.