Pope Francis cites jailed Reuters reporters in appeal for press freedom

Pope Francis (R) walks with Bhaddanta Kumarabhivasma (center L), chairman of State Sanga Maha Nayaka Committee, during a meeting in Yangon on November 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO

Pope Francis made an appeal for greater press freedom in “so-called democratic” countries during an interview with Reuters yesterday. He cited the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are being held in a Yangon prison on suspicion of possessing secret documents.

“The right to information is a right that must always be protected, and not only with regard to the Rohingya,” Pope Francis said during the interview. “States that have something they don’t want to be seen always stop the media and freedom of the press, and we must fight for freedom of the press. We must fight.”

The pope’s visit to Myanmar in November sparked curiosity as to whether he would use the name “Rohingya” during his visit. The Myanmar government and Buddhist nationalist groups reject the label, arguing that the Rohingya are interlopers from Bangladesh. The pope ultimately decided not to use the word in public, and his spokesperson offered a series of excuses for the decision.

Pope Francis later mentioned the Rohingya directly during a visit to Bangladesh.

Less than two weeks after the pope’s visit, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested by Myanmar police while investigating the Inn Din massacre, in which security forces killed 10 Rohingya men and boys.

Responding to the pope’s comments, Myanmar government spokesperson Zaw Htay said: “Currently, Reuters’ case is a case which is still ongoing at the court. They will be released if they are innocent. They will be punished if they committed a crime. The government cannot interfere in the court proceedings.”

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