Journalists and rights groups rallied in downtown Yangon on Wednesday to mark one year since the detention of two Reuters journalists, who are serving seven-year sentences related to their reporting on a military massacre of Rohingya Muslims.
Protest organizers handed out fliers that read “Journalism is Not a Crime!” and called for the release of the Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
The pair were arrested on December 12 last year by plainclothes police. They were detained upon being ‘entrapped’ in a set-up by a senior police official, according to testimony of police officer who was involved in the Inn Din massacre, the story the journalists were covering.
After Reuters published a detailed account of the massacre in February, a military tribunal sentenced seven soldiers to 10 years in prison for murder.
However, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted in September for possession of secret government information and charged under the Official Secrets Act.
Journalists and rights groups are renewing their calls for their unconditional release and for the courts to overturn their convictions.
Over 100 activists and media representatives showed in full force to support and cover the protest.
A pickup truck arrived at the corner of Maha Bandoola Park carrying dozens of black balloons with the two reporters faces and the slogan “Free Wa Lone & Kyaw Soe Oo”.
Protestors wearing shirts with the same slogan lined up in front of journalists and reporters and carried posters of the Time Magazine cover featuring Wa Lone’s and Kyaw Soe Oo’s wives Pan Ei Mon and Chit Su Win, photographed carrying portraits of the two journalists.
After organizers lit 100 candles, Maung Saung Kha, the founder and executive director of Yangon-based freedom of expression advocacy group Athan, spoke to the small crowd about the reasons for the event.
“We are gathered here to remember the one year anniversary of the arrest of Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo. They were unjustly arrested – they were charged with an unjust law,” Maung Saung told journalists and protestors.
“Our demands remain the same: the immediate release of these two journalists,” he added before asking the small crowd to observe a minute of silence.
Protest organizers from Athan and Phandeeyar addressed the crowd surrounding the candles burning on the pavement, calling on the justice sector and government to overturn the convictions and restore media freedoms, and the public’s right to information.
“We want them to be released immediately – either through a presidential pardon or the courts. The ideal scenario is for the courts to recognize that there was no crime committed, that they were just doing their jobs,” Maung Saung concluded in his closing remarks.
In a symbolic gesture of hope and freedom, protestors released the black balloons into the sky, clapping as they wished for the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.