Jailed For 490 Days, Myanmar Journalists Win Prestigious Pulitzer Prize For Reportage On Rohingya Crisis
April 16th, 2019 / 5:09 PM
Image Credit: NDTV
Jailed Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, both citizens of Myanmar, won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize on Monday, April 15, for their reportage on the massacre of 10 Muslim Rohingya men by Buddhist villagers and Myanmar security forces.
Journalists awarded Pulitzer prize
The two reporters were imprisoned by the Myanmar authorities on charges of breaking the country’s Officials Secrets Act, while they were conducting an investigation into the killings of the Rohingya muslim men. In a move which was slammed by activists and press freedom groups all over the world, the two men were sentenced to seven years in prison. Even as Reuters keeps pushing for their release, the two men have already spent 490 days in prison.
“I’m thrilled that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their colleagues have been recognized for their extraordinary, courageous coverage, and our photojournalists for their moving pictures that show humanity defying huge obstacles,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said.
As a tribute to their courage and commitment to freedom of expression, the 2019 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, which honours the defence and promotion of press freedom, will also be awarded to both the journalists.
A Myanmar court on September 3 found two Reuters reporters guilty and sentenced them to seven years in prison for illegal possession of documents. While giving the verdict presiding judge Ye Lwin stated that the reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have breached the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. This landmark judgement has drawn criticism from the western countries and press freedom activists alike who are considering this development as a blow to the freedom of the press in Myanmar.
How were the Reuters reporters arrested?
According to BBC, both Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28 are Myanmar nationals who were working as reporters for the international news agency. They were reporting on the murder of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine in Myanmar. Before the report could get published, the duo was arrested by the police moments after being handed some documents by two policemen whom the two reporters had met at a restaurant for the first time.
Reportedly, both the reporters, who have young daughters had been behind the bars for nearly nine months, the duration of which is to be deducted from their 7-year-long prison sentences, observed the judge.
Not pleading guilty under the Official Secrets Act
According to Al Jazeera, both the reporters had pleaded not guilty and held their ground while contending that they were framed by the police. In fact, one police official even testified to the fact that the restaurant meeting was set up to entrap the reporters for reporting on the atrocity of the Rohingya men. The police official was then jailed for a year for violating police regulations.
The reporters also testified that both of them were just doing their work and functioning like normal reporters and that they did not solicit any secret document. As several appeals for bail had earlier been rejected, the only way out is for the defense to appeal to the regional court first and then the Supreme Court.
The archaic act, under which the reporters have been arrested was set in place by the British in 1923 which makes the sharing of any kind of information held by the government a criminal offence. The specific charges against the reporters come from section 3 of the said act which accuses the two of passing information that could be ‘useful to the enemy.’
Court decision drew flak
A number of countries including the USA, UK and Bangladesh among others as well as human rights groups have demanded the immediate release of the journalists, reported Al Jazeera. Additionally, the European Union’s foreign policy service condemned the move and said that it undermines freedom of the media as well as the development of the rule of law in the country. The EU has also demanded immediate acquittal of the two reporters.
Written by : Sromona Bhattacharyya
Edited by : Shraddha Goled