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The VICE Guide to Right Now

Release of Myanmar Journalists is a Small Win in Fight for Press Freedom

In Asia, many journalists and government critics remain behind bars
myanmar journalists free
Image: Screenshots from YouTube.

After over 500 days in jail, two Reuters journalists have been released from a Yangon prison on Tuesday, May 7. The journalists, U Wa Lone and U Kyaw Soe Oo, were sentenced to seven years in prison in 2017 under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act for gaining access to sensitive information regarding the Rohingya genocide.

Their release came as a surprise to many as just a few weeks ago, Myanmar’s top court rejected the appeal of the two journalists. After the decision, their lawyer said their only hope was a presidential pardon, which they have now received.


The Tuesday presidential amnesty released 6,520 prisoners. Since last month, President Win Myint has pardoned thousands of other prisoners in mass amenities, Reuters reports.

It felt like a belated present for World Press Freedom Day, celebrated just 4 days ago. This pardon however, shouldn't distract from the hostile environment journalists still deal with in Asia today.

Reporters Without Borders has called Asia-Pacific the region "with the world’s biggest prisons for journalists and bloggers" and with "the biggest number of 'Predators of Press Freedom,' who run some the worst dictatorships and information 'black holes,' such as North Korea and Laos."

The tense climate surrounding press freedom has shown no sign of improving either. Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists has pointed out "a really alarming decline in almost every country" in the region.

From the Philippines where President Rodrigo Duterte is cracking down on media and critics, to Indonesia where a new law could jail citizens for criticising national politicians, to Thailand's lese majeste laws, to Cambodia where independent dailies have been forced to close to down – there's much left to be done.

While many celebrate the victory – and rightfully so – some activists and journalists are more cautious. Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a political activist who is currently under prosecution in Myanmar, warned against celebrating the government, given the number of political prisoners still behind bars.


Aaron Connelly, Research Fellow in Southeast Asian Political Change and Foreign Policy, also reminded netizens that the problem does not stop with the release of the journalists.

What is left unanswered is how this victory will change the hostile environment journalists work in throughout the region. Journalists and writers on the ground pointed out the far-reaching impact of the case.

The release however, is a positive development overall – with lessons to take away, as shared by VICE Asia Editor-in Chief Natashya Gutierrez.

It also means a very important thing: innocent and courages journalists are back with their families – and on the field – at least for Wa Lone who vowed to continue reporting.

"I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom."