Reuters Journalists Released
Reuters Journalists Released

Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe OO spent more than 500 days in prison in Myanmar after exposing atrocities against the country's Rohingya people. The two were freed this week as part of a general amnesty and after global condemnation of their arrests.

In April their investigation, "Massacre in Myanmar" — along with contributions of other Reuters journalists — was awarded a Pulitizer Prize for international reporting. Following are profiles of the two journalists, who were reunited with their families after their release on May 7.

WA LONE

Wa Lone grew up in Kin Pyit, a village of some 400 households in the Shwe Bo district north of Mandalay, on Myanmar's dry central plain between the mighty Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers.

One of five children, his parents were rice farmers and they had little money. His mother died from cancer when he was young.

But he was a good student, according to friends and family, and he took a keen interest in news reporting from an early age.

In December 2010, having saved a little money, the brothers moved back to Yangon, where Wa Lone could pursue his boyhood dream. Living in North Okklapa Township, near the city's airport, they re-established their photo services business, while Wa Lone also enrolled in a media training school and later began taking English classes.

Within five or six months Wa Lone had landed his first job in journalism on the weekly People's Age in Yangon, where his editor was Pe Myint — now Myanmar's Minister of Information.

In 2014, he joined the English-language daily, Myanmar Times, covering the historic 2015 general election that swept Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to power. The paper's former editor, Thomas Kean, says he felt he had to hire him when they met because he clearly cared deeply about journalism and also was thoughtful and articulate.

As well as providing a platform for him to excel as a journalist, the two years he spent at the Myanmar Times was a significant period in Wa Lone's personal life - it was there that he met his wife Pan Ei Mon who works in the paper's sales department. The couple married in April, 2017 and she gave birth to a girl on Aug 10, 2018.

Wa Lone was detained for most of the time his wife was pregnant.

Despite the long hours chasing stories and studying, Wa Lone has still found time to write a children's book, "The Gardener," a story in Burmese and English with an environmental message that draws on his own rural roots.

He co-founded The Third Story Project, a charitable foundation that produces and distributes stories that aim to promote tolerance between Myanmar's different ethnic groups, and is involved in projects working with orphans.

Many of his weekends off have been spent visiting poor rural villages — much like the one where he grew up.

Wa Lone joined Reuters in July 2016 and quickly made his mark with in-depth stories on sensitive subjects including land grabs by the powerful military and the murder of prominent politician Ko Ni, as well as uncovering evidence of killings by soldiers in the northeast.

His reporting on the crisis that erupted in northwestern Rakhine state in October 2016 won him a joint honorable mention from the Society of Publishers in Asia in its annual awards.

KYAW SOE OO

Family and friends of Kyaw Soe Oo say he has always had a love of writing, and he composed poetry before becoming a journalist.

Min Min, the founder of the Root Investigative Agency where Kyaw Soe Oo worked after starting his reporting career with the online Rakhine Development News, described the 27-year-old as "a joyful person" who had many friends.

An ethnic Rakhine Buddhist, Kyaw Soe Oo grew up in the state capital Sittwe, and was one of five siblings.

For Reuters, Kyaw Soe Oo worked on an investigative story about Myanmar's plan to harvest the crops of Rohingya farmers who fled to Bangladesh, and he reported on how some Buddhists were enforcing local-level segregation in central Rakhine.