TWO Reuters journalists were today reunited with their families as they were freed after 500 days in jail for probing Burma’s Rohingya slaughter.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, walked free after initially being handed a seven-year sentence in September 2017 for breaking Myanmar's Official Secrets Act.
The journalists celebrated their freedom with their wives and daughters, as heartwarming pictures show the families embrace after more than 500 days apart.
The two were freed after President Win Myint issued a blanket pardon for 6,520 prisoners.
Myanmar's Supreme Court had rejected the journalists' final appeal against their seven-year prison terms on April 23.
I'm really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues
The pair was investigating the mass killing of a number of Rohingya villagers in Myanmar's Rakhine state, and once arrested, they claimed they were set up by the police.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in September while carrying official documents handed to them by police officers.
FREE AT LAST
Now, the reporters, who were represented by Amal Clooney, are “pleased” and “elated” following their release.
Wa Lone today said: "I want to say that I am very happy today.
"I want to thank our friends and families who were trying for our freedom and also to those from all over the world who sympathised with us.
"I'm really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can't wait to go to my newsroom.”
I hope that their release signals a renewed commitment to press freedom in Myanmar
Amal Clooney, who joined the legal team working on their case a year ago, paid tribute to the “incredible determination” of Reuters “in their pursuit of justice for their brave reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo”.
She said: “It is inspiring to see a news organisation so committed to the protection of innocent men and the profession of journalism.
"I hope that their release signals a renewed commitment to press freedom in Myanmar.”
Myanmar's military launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in the western state of Rakhine in 2017, driving more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
The two reporters had worked on an investigation of the killings of 10 Rohingya villagers in Inn Din village, for which the government last year said seven soldiers were sentenced to up 10 years in prison with hard labour.
'WE WELCOME THEIR RETURN'
In September, Judge Ye Lwin told the court in Yangon that evidence that the pair had "intended to harm the interests of the state".
After the verdict, Wa Lone said: "I have no fear. I have not done anything wrong. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom."
Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler called it a "sad day".
After the verdict, he said: "These two admirable reporters have already spent nearly nine months in prison on false charges designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press.
"We will not wait while Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo suffer this injustice and will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days."
Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world
After the much-anticipated release, Adler said in a statement: "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."
What is the Rohingya crisis?
Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic group that make up a large minority of the population of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
They have been consistently and systematically persecuted over the years of a military dictatorship in the former British colony from 1962-2015, where former democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi is the defacto head of state.
Since taking office, further large waves of desperate Rohingya refugees have been fleeing the predominantly Buddhist country amid reports of state persecution and violence.
Whole villages have been burned down and families driven from their homes.
Rohingya have been classed as illegal immigrants in the country and have been denied civil rights.
Their treatment has been described by the UN as 'a textbook example of ethnic cleansing'.
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The United Nations office in Myanmar said in a statement: "The UN in Myanmar considers the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo a step toward improving the freedom of the press and a sign of Government's commitment to Myanmar's transition to democracy.”
Family members of the two reporters were elated.
Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife Chit Su Win, said just before their reunion that she doesn't know how to express her feelings, but "now the three of us can hug each other and we are so happy for that."
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