Global Witness welcomes today’s release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who spent more than 500 days in prison for reporting on abuses committed by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya villagers. Arrested in December 2017 and sentenced in September 2018 to seven years in prison after being found guilty of breaking the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, the pair has been jailed in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison ever since. They were awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 for their investigations on the mass expulsion of the Rohingya from Myanmar.
Their case is the highest profile example of a growing threat to press freedoms in Myanmar. Since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government took office in 2016, more than 43 journalists and bloggers have been arrested for publishing criticism of the security forces or government officials. The trend continues as just last month, the Myanmar military sued local news outlet the Irrawaddy over its coverage of the current conflict in western Rakhine State, while earlier in April, the Irawaddy and several other news outlets were threatened with physical attacks by unknown persons claiming the media was biased against a local ethnic armed group.
“The repressive laws that criminalise free speech and legitimate media reporting must be repealed,” said Paul Donowitz, Global Witness Team Leader for Myanmar. “Critical reporting is essential in open societies, and more so in those undergoing transitions to democracy. Instead of criminalising the media and others exercising their rights to expression, the authorities should be promoting an open and critical discourse.”
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