YANGON (Reuters) - Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were freed on Tuesday months after being sentenced to seven years in jail on convictions under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
The two were arrested in December 2017 while working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The conviction of Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, in September last year sparked an outcry from diplomats and press freedom advocates, who said the jailing of two young reporters raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy.
During more than 500 days behind bars, their reporting on a military crackdown in Rakhine State was recognised with international awards and they were named by Time magazine as its “Person of the Year” alongside other journalists last year.
Here are some key facts about the two journalists, who had been detained since Dec. 12, 2017:
- Wa Lone, 33, was born to a rice farming family in Kin Pyit, a village of fewer than 500 people in the dry plains of central Myanmar’s Sagaing region.
- In his 20s, Wa Lone moved to Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, and took up journalism. He worked as a reporter for outlets including the Myanmar Times, an English-language newspaper where he met his future wife, Pan Ei Mon. He joined Reuters in 2016 and married Pan Ei Mon the same year.
- Outside of his day job, Wa Lone did regular charity work. He co-founded the Third Story Project, a charitable foundation that produces and distributes books that aim to promote tolerance between Myanmar’s different ethnic groups. He authored some of the books himself, including Jay Jay the Journalist, which he wrote while incarcerated at Yangon’s Insein prison.
- Months after Wa Lone joined Reuters, an insurgent group from the Rohingya Muslim minority announced itself with attacks on police posts in the western state of Rakhine. Wa Lone was central to Reuters’ coverage of the conflict that followed.
- Weeks after her husband’s arrest, Pan Ei Mon discovered she was pregnant with their first child. Their baby girl, Thet Htar Angel, was born on Aug. 10, 2018, in a Yangon hospital. Wa Lone has only seen his daughter a handful of times on her visits to prison.
- Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, comes from Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, and was born to a Buddhist family from the Rakhine ethnic group that makes up the majority in the state.
- His home state has been beset by bursts of ethnic violence since 2012, but friends said Kyaw Soe Oo stayed out of the conflict, instead developing a love of books and composing poetry.
- Kyaw Soe Oo begun working as a journalist and was involved in setting up Root Investigative Agency, an outlet focused on news in Rakhine.
- He is married to Chit Su Win, who once worked for his family in Sittwe. Their daughter, Moe Thin Wai Zan, is three years old.
- After the north of Rakhine State erupted in violence in 2017, Kyaw Soe Oo started working for Reuters, where he and Wa Lone uncovered a massacre of Rohingya men and boys in the village of Inn Din. The pair were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in April.
Writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel