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Myanmar: Experts 'terribly concerned' about press freedom

GENEVA (8 May 2019 ) - UN human rights experts welcomed the news that convicted Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are back at home with their families in Myanmar, but expressed serious concerns about the judicial process in the country and the fact that their guilty verdicts still stand.

The two reporters, who won a Pulitzer Prize last month for their investigation into the 2017 massacre of Rohingya men and boys at Inn Din village, Rakhine State, were granted a presidential pardon on 7 May. They had been serving a seven-year jail sentence in connection with the reporting, charged with breaching the 1923 Official Secrets Act.

“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not have to carry out the remainder of their sentences, their convictions under the Official Secrets Act have not been withdrawn and they should never have been prosecuted in the first place,” said the UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee and freedom of 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 experts said.

Trials against other journalists and human rights defenders are ongoing. Reports have been received of charges recently made by the military against the editors of the Irrawaddy, Radio Free Asia and DMG news outlets as a result of their independent reporting of the current conflict in Rakhine State with the Arakan Army. These cases and restrictions on media access to Rakhine State are preventing reporting of the conflict as well as of human rights violations that continue to be routinely perpetrated against the civilian population, including the remaining Rohingya.

“We have previously raised concerns about the independence of the judiciary and the Government’s commitment to establishing a democracy that respects human rights,” the experts said. “We therefore again urge the Government to undertake the necessary reforms to bring about genuine democracy and reverse its course into repression.”

Thousands of prisoners were released across Myanmar under Presidential pardons which are made annually during the new year celebrations, many of whom were convicted under laws that urgently need reform. Several people convicted under politically motivated charges have been released, however at least 20 political prisoners remain in jail.

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