National Press Club

National Press Club celebrates belated release of journalists in Myanmar

May 6, 2019 | By John M. Donnelly | jdonnelly@cq.com

Leaders of the National Press Club expressed joy late today upon seeing news reports that two Reuters journalists who had spent more than a year in prison in Myanmar had been released.

The journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, had received the Club’s John Aubuchon Award for Press Freedom in 2018. They have also earned a Pulitzer Prize and UNESCO’s press freedom award, and they were recognized in Time magazine in its 2018 “Person of the Year” issue.

“Today is a great day because our colleagues are free, but let’s be clear: they should never have been imprisoned to begin with,” said Club President Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak. “We cannot wait to welcome them in Washington at the National Press Club.”

“The work these two men did to uncover state-sponsored killing was journalism at its best, and their prosecution on phony charges was reprehensible,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Club’s nonprofit affiliate. “Their long-overdue release comes as a great relief.”

The two men were convicted last September of possessing state secrets, and each of them was sentenced to seven years in jail.

They had already been imprisoned since December 2017, when they were reporting in Rakhine State on the murders of Rohingya men and boys by security forces.

Authorities are widely believed to have planted secret documents on them in a restaurant to entrap them. A police officer who was a prosecution witness testified to that effect.

Myanmar’s Supreme Court had ruled against their appeal last month. Their only chance was for the president, Win Myint, to pardon them, which he did on Monday. He also pardoned several thousand other prisoners, according to news reports.

The National Press Club, the world’s leading professional organization for journalists, represents more than 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide. The Club’s nonprofit affiliate, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press, and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire civic engagement.