A Year of Silence? The First Anniversary of the Reuters Arrests

by Azhar Vickland

You, the press, are under attack like never before. You are being jailed in record numbers around the world… because you are being targeted for exposing crimes committed… for speaking the truths that are most difficult for perpetrators to hear.” – Amal Clooney

It has been a year since the arrests of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar. They were arrested on the 12th of December 2017, while working on an investigation into the Inn Din Massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in the Rakhine state.

The Inn Din Massacre is an example of one of the many atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar government, headed by the de-facto leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. It falls under the label of the wider ‘Rohingya Crisis’, which refers to the exodus of Rohingya Muslims to neighbouring Bangladesh from the Rakhine state. The crisis worsened in recent years after an escalation of hostilities between the Myanmar Army and the Rohingya. It peaked in the August of 2017 after Myanmar military troops launched an offensive together with Buddhist mobs, burning Rohingya villages and killing Rohingyas, in retaliation to an attack by the Rohingya Arsa (a Rohingya militant group).

The investigation that Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone were working on provided a comprehensive account of the Inn Din Massacre. On the 2nd of September 2017, 10 Rohingya men were killed by the security forces and local Buddhist villagers; a few of them were reportedly hacked to death and the rest were shot dead. They were later buried in a mass grave on the site of the killing. The investigation was completed with the help of their colleagues, Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski, and a report was published by Reuters on the 8th of February 2018.

Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone were arrested by the Myanmar police after being invited to a restaurant dinner and being handed rolled up papers (that would act as evidence of the confidential documents). They were arrested on the basis of the “possession of confidential state documents”. The two journalists were tried under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and have been imprisoned for 7 years. These arrests have raised concerns over free-speech in Myanmar. The government has been under the scrutiny of the international community ever since. Time Magazine recently presented its “Person of the Year” honour to a group of journalists which included, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone. The magazine’s assistant managing editor Ben Goldberger remarked that this was a declaration that the “truth” is as important as democracy; he highlighted that a democracy is unable to function “without a shared understanding of fact”.

There have been calls for the release of these two journalists by international organisations, news agencies and journalist clubs. Activists in Myanmar staged a rally in Yangon earlier today in solidarity with them. Additionally, an appeal against the journalists’ case has been made by their lawyers and accepted by a Yangon-based court on the basis of a lack of evidence cited by the police to justify their arrests. Hopefully, they will receive the justice they deserve.