The Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 leading media organisations in 20 Asian countries, has welcomed the release of Reuters Journalists Wa Lone (33) and Kyaw Soe Oo (29) by the Myanmar government on Tuesday.
In a statement issued on May 8, ANN said: “We applaud the government’s decision to release both men and urge upon the government the need to protect and ensure press freedom.”
The two Reuters journalists, who were reporting on the Rohingya crisis, had been jailed under the Official Secrets Act.
“Both Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been imprisoned for over 500 days for simply doing their job and reporting the truth. While we commend the government on their release, we maintain that neither should have spent a day behind bars,” said the ANN statement.
The media network also questioned the continuation of a colonial era law that was invoked to send the journalists to prison.
“While we do not question Myanmar’s right to press for redress if it feels wronged by a news report, we question the use of a colonial era law, introduced by an oppressive British Colonial Government, to maintain order,” read the statement.
ANN said such laws were a “heavy anchor” imposed Myanmar by past injustices as the country “democratizes and strives to throw off the weight of past oppression”.
“A credible press is a crucial and a necessary component of a civil society. A vibrant media sector and inquisitive journalists are assets for the population and should not be muzzled, intimidated or censored. Myanmar journalists sadly remain under severe threat despite the Reuters journalists’ release,” the ANN said in the statement.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who spent over 500 days in a prison on the outskirts of Yangon after being sentenced to seven years in jail in September 2018, were released on Tuesday after a presidential amnesty.
Their imprisonment had been seen as an assault on the freedom of press, also also raised questions about democracy in Myanmar.