Two prize-winning Reuters journalists held in Myanmar for over 500 days for their coverage of the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims were freed from jail Tuesday, their news agency reported, citing witnesses at the prison.
Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were found guilty in September 2018 of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act over their reporting of the massacre in the village of Inn Dinn in Rakhine state.
In a statement, the journalists' lawyer Amal Clooney said that "since taking on this case over a year ago, I have witnessed incredible determination by Reuters, in particular editor-in-chief Steve Adler and Chief Counsel Gail Gove, in their pursuit of justice for their courageous reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo".
Reuters has always maintained the innocence of the two as it fought for their release.
"A presidential pardon is the best hope for the release of the two journalists".
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for global reporting for their work in uncovering the massacre, which they shared with two colleagues who completed the story after their conviction.
This is the third round of presidential pardons, after Win Myint freed 9,551 prisoners on April 17 and another 6,948 on April 26, most of whom were serving sentences for drug offences.
Reuters released a video showing Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo reuniting with their families, hugging their wives and young children. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were handcuffed and thrust into cars. "I want to thank our friends and families who were trying for our freedom and also to those from all over the world who sympathized with us", Wa Lone said.
"The Rohingya community stands with U Wa Lone and U Kyaw Soe Oo today, just as we have every day of their unlawful imprisonment by this complicit Burmese regime".
Their case captured global attention and heaped worldwide pressure upon the Myanmar government, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Their jailing drew condemnation as an assault on freedom of the press.
"I'm really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues", Wa Lone told reporters as he left the prison.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on the evening of 12 December, 2017.
The Reuters journalists were released at the prison to representatives of Reuters and to Lord Ara Darzi, a British surgeon and health care expert who has served as a member of an advisory group to Myanmar's government on reforms in Rakhine State.
"Although Myanmar failed shamefully to redress the injustice of their trumped-up arrest and conviction on spurious evidence, we are relieved that their ordeal behind bars is over" Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America, said in a statement.
"We must all renew our commitment to the fight for media freedom and work together to counter the forces who would rather keep us in the dark", Souag said. "This is unacceptable as they only did their job as journalists".
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