By Erdogan Cagatay Zontur
ANKARA (AA) – UN human rights experts welcomed on Wednesday the release of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar but said they have serious concerns about the judicial process in the country and the fact that their guilty verdicts still stand.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who had been detained since December 2017, were each sentenced to seven years in prison last September for allegedly breaching a colonial-era law by investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017.
“While it is good news that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been reunited with their families and will not have to carry out the remainder of their sentences, their convictions under the Official Secrets Act have not been withdrawn and they should never have been prosecuted in the first place,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.
“We remain terribly concerned about the state of media freedom and the democratic space in Myanmar. The authorities have a considerable way to go to in law, policy and institution-building to ensure a minimum level of democratic space, which is particularly important in the lead-up to national elections next year,” the statement said.
The two Reuters journalists were among 6,520 inmates released Tuesday under a third round of pardons by Myanmar President Win Myint to celebrate the traditional New Year, which began April 17.
“I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues,” Wa Lone told a crowd of reporters after his release.
Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
The UN has also documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — and brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces.
In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity and genocidal intent.