Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo investigated the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers by the Myanmar army and were sentenced to seven years in prison under the Official Secrets Act, sparking international condemnation.
The prison chief of Myanmar said the pair had walked free on Tuesday morning, shortly after President Win Myint issued a blanket pardon for 6,520 prisoners.
Stephen Adler, the editor-in-chief of Reuters, said in a statement that the pair, who spent 511 days in prison, had become “symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world”.
“We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” Adler said. “We welcome their return.”
The pair were arrested in December 2017 after spending months investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in Inn Din, a village in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. They were accused of illegally possessing official documents, though Reuters and the journalists themselves insisted they had done nothing wrong.
The report they authored on the massacre, based on interviews with witnesses, families of victims and perpetrators, saw them awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting last month while in prison.
Swamped by supporters as they walked out through the gates of Insein Prison, outside Yangon, Wa Lone gave a thumbs up and said he was grateful for the international efforts to secure their freedom.
“I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom,” he said.
According to Reuters, a British surgeon and civilian advisor to the Myanmar government was instrumental to securing the journalists’ release.
The pair were released on Tuesday into the care of Lord Ara Darzi, a member of the advisory commission that was formed under the guidance of former UN chief Kofi Anan to try and solve the long-running Rohingya crisis.
While Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were released as part of mass pardons that traditionally take place around 17 April new year festivities in Myanmar, Lord Darzi said discussions about their pardon had involved the Myanmar government, Reuters, the UN and representatives of other governments, without providing more detail.
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