Two Reuters journalists arrested in Myanmar for reports on military crackdown kept from families and lawyers

Two Reuters journalists who have been arrested in their native Myanmar are being denied contact with their families or lawyers.

Recently married Wa Lone, 31, had always wanted to be a reporter, according to one of his brothers, while dad-of-one Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, is a book lover drawn into reporting on conflict in the country.

Both were arrested on 12 December having covered the military crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine region of the majority Buddhist country since 25 August.

They stand accused of breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.

Lone’s brother. Thura Aung, said aged ten he would “play at being a [news] anchor]”. “He always said he wanted to be a reporter in the future,” Aung told Reuters.

Wa Lone

Lone’s first job was on the weekly People’s Age in Yangon, later joining English-language daily the Myanmar times in 2014 and covering  general election that brought Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi to power the following year.

“As soon as I met Wa Lone, I knew we had to hire him,” said the paper’s former editor, Thomas Kean. “He was thoughtful, articulate and clearly cared deeply about journalism.”

While at the Times, Lone met his wife Pan Ei Mon – who works in the paper’s marketing department – and the couple married in April last year.

Wa Lone joined Reuters in July 2016 and covered in-depth stories on subjects including land grabs by the powerful military and the murder of prominent politician Ko Ni, as well as uncovering evidence of killings by soldiers in the northeast.

While reporting, he found time to write a children’s book, The Gardener, a story in Burmese and English with an environmental message. He also co-founded charitable foundation the Third Story Project that distributes stories promoting tolerance between Myanmar’s different ethnic groups.

Kean said: “His bravery over the past year, and particularly since 25 August, has been incredible. It’s hard to describe the tide of ill-feeling towards journalists who question the military-government narrative on Rakhine.”

“As soon as one of my colleagues said: ‘Have you heard about Wa Lone?’ I knew he’d been arrested. His reporting has undoubtedly made him a target. It’s heartbreaking, infuriating and completely unsurprising.”

Kyaw Soe Oo

Min Min, the founder of the Root Investigative Agency, where Kyaw Soe Oo worked after starting his reporting career with the online Rakhine Development News, described the journalist as “a joyful person”.

She said: “When I first met him in 2013, he was a poet not a journalist and not interested in journalism yet.”

Soe Oo’s sister, Nyo Nyo Aye, said her brother was “was always with books”, adding: “He wrote poems. He loved to read.”

“As a journalist, he will cover news, but I think he will do it fairly because he does not discriminate between races,” she said. “He just realizes all are human.”

For Reuters, Kyaw Soe Oo worked on an investigative story about Myanmar’s plan to harvest the crops of Rohingya farmers who fled to Bangladesh, and reported on how some Buddhists were enforcing local-level segregation in central Rakhine.

“He didn’t tell me about the work and I never asked,” said his wife, Chit Thu Win, with whom he has a three-year-old daughter.

“I believed in him that he is doing the right thing and he’s just following his passion. He wanted to be a writer.”

Pictures: Reuters

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