Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis have been freed.
Wa Lone, 33 and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29 were released after a presidential amnesty. They spent more than 500 days in prison on the outskirts of Yangon.
They had been convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in jail last September.
Their jailing was seen as an assault on press freedom and raised questions about Myanmar’s democracy.
As he left the prison, Wa Lone, told the BBC’s Nick Beake that he would never stop being a journalist.
“I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom,” he also told reporters.
The pair were released along with thousands of other prisoners as part of mass amnesties that take place annually around Myanmar’s new year.
Reuters’ Editor-in-Chief said the reporters – who last month won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for their reporting – had become “symbols” of press freedom.
“We are enormously pleased Myanmar has released our courageous reporters,” Stephen J Adler said in a statement.
Rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) congratulated the pair, but added that “dozens” of journalists still remained jailed.
“We congratulate [them] on walking free from unjust imprisonment,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division at HRW in a statement.
“But the crisis is not over for literally dozens of other Burmese journalists and bloggers who are still facing baseless criminal charges for their reporting.”
What were they investigating?
The pair are Myanmar citizens who were working for international news agency Reuters.
They had been collecting evidence about the murders of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine in September 2017.
They were arrested before the report’s publication, after being handed some documents by two policemen who they had met at a restaurant for the first time.
A police witness testified during the trial that the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists.
The final report – a collaboration with other journalists – was considered extraordinary, because it gathered testimonies from a range of participants, including Buddhist villagers who confessed to killing Rohingya Muslims and torching their homes. Accounts from paramilitary police also directly implicated the military.
The military had previously released its own investigation into allegations of abuse in Rakhine, and exonerated itself of wrongdoing, despite large amounts of testimony from Rohingya refugees describing atrocities.
Authorities later launched their own probe into the Inn Din killings, confirming the massacre had taken place and promising to take action against those who had taken part.
Seven soldiers were sentenced to prison for their involvement in the killings.
The military said the soldiers would serve 10 years with hard labour for “contributing and participating in murder”.