At the Committee to Protect Journalists ‘Press Behind Bars: Undermining Justice and Democracy’ event at United Nations today, Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler made the following prepared remarks:
“It was a year ago this month that ten Muslim men and boys were brutally murdered in the village of Inn Din in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
They were picked out of a crowd by paramilitary forces sent to secure the village, in the midst of what the UN has described as ethnic cleansing. The oldest was 45, the youngest, only 17. They were bound, made to kneel, led up a hill, hacked with swords, and shot to death. Their bodies were thrown into one shallow grave. Photographs were taken of them kneeling—and then of them dead.
We have seen these photographs and we know about this massacre because of the intrepid reporting of two courageous journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They work for Reuters, the news organization that I run. We know about this massacre because they did what good reporters do. They talked to their sources; they traveled to the location of a suspected incident; they spoke with witnesses of all backgrounds, interviewed officials, collected documentary evidence, and viewed the crime scene themselves. We know about this massacre, in short, because Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo went to Inn Din with open minds and left with facts.
Except that they didn’t really get to leave; only the facts did. In an astonishing miscarriage of justice, our reporters were set up and arrested. A brigadier general—who was angry that members of his command had talked to Wa Lone—was behind the plan. The trap was simple, almost absurd. On December 12, Wa Lone was summoned to an urgent meeting at a restaurant. There, he and his colleague Kyaw Soe Oo were given documents rolled up in a newspaper, instructed to read them later–and then pounced on by police, who pretended to discover the documents.
Their arrest was clearly aimed at unmasking Reuters sources and deterring us from publishing the account of the massacre. Intimidation was severe: Our reporters were handcuffed, hooded, continuously interrogated, threatened, and denied sleep. Two weeks passed before their families, lawyers, or we at Reuters had any idea where they were. But once we’d made contact with them and completed their reporting, we published the explosive story of what happened at Inn Din. We published the photographs too. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo gave us their full support in doing so. These are good men: devoted, hardworking husbands and fathers—though Wa Lone has yet to see his one-month-old daughter, and Kyaw Soe Oo has had to content himself with brief hugs from his three-year-old.
More to the point, these men are patriotic citizens who want to see their country act morally and move closer to the rules-based democracy promised by Aung San Suu Kyi. Both chose journalism with the sincere belief that they could advance these goals by impartially uncovering facts and telling the truth.
Both men embody what Reuters has made its mission for more than 160 years: to be strenuously impartial in our gathering of information. Reuters is known for its determination to report the facts, whatever they are, and whomever they favor—or offend. In the 166 countries where we operate, we remain committed to this goal, including in Myanmar, where our reporting continues.
Make no mistake: What’s happening in Myanmar and in the Rohingya refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh is vitally important. And we won’t be intimidated from pursuing these stories, despite the unjust prosecutions of our journalists and despite the fact that Myanmar’s military has since imposed even more restrictions on coverage of Rakhine State. However, the mistreatment of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is not just about these two reporters, or about Reuters, or even about Myanmar. The attack on them is a chilling warning to other journalists worldwide. Myanmar is not the only country where attempts are made to deter investigative newsgathering, scare sources and whistleblowers, dim the spotlight of reporting, and thereby allow officials to act in darkness with impunity.
The community of nations cannot condone this. We must stand for the rule of law, for the ideal and the practice of democracy. And those cannot flourish without the free flow of information.
We are grateful for all those who have stood by Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Our staff. Journalists around the world. Press freedom groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists. Governments and diplomats. Multilateral organizations. And countless individuals.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were unjustly arrested, unjustly convicted, and unjustly sentenced. They should not be in prison for another day. And we will continue to advocate on their behalf until they are free.
[Reuters Press Blog]
Heather.Carpenter @ tr.com