One year on, families of Reuters journalists hope for release

By YE MON

YANGON — “We went to the market on the evening of December 12 to prepare for the next day’s lunch,” said Ma Pan Ei Mon, the wife of jailed Reuters journalist Ko Wa Lone.

The memory of their time together a year ago is one that Pan Ei Mon cherishes.

She recalled that Wa Lone, 32, who wrote children’s books in his spare time, was busy with plans for his life and career.

“He was planning to take an exam for studying in Sweden. He also planned to take holiday leave and take photos,” she said.

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A few hours after shopping with his wife at the market, Wa Lone and Reuters colleague Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were invited to a meeting with police at a restaurant on Yangon’s northern outskirts where they were arrested under disputed circumstances and charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act. Following a controversial trial, during which a prosecution witness said the two journalists were victims of a set-up, they were sentenced on September 3 to seven years each in jail.

Life has been challenging for Pan Ei Mon, 36, since her husband was taken away.

She told Frontier after visiting Wa Lone at Insein on December 8 that it was a struggle to raise her daughter, Thet Htar Angel, who was born on August 10.

Pan Ei Mon has also been struggling with the cost of renting her house in South Okkalapa Township.

“I have to find another home to rent; it is very difficult for us,” she said.

However, she remains undaunted by the difficulties she is facing as a single mother. Her routine includes travelling to Insein Prison in northern Yangon at least once a week to visit Wa Lone, who is keeping busy.

“He asked me to bring books and plants for him; he is planting trees in the prison,” she said.

Wa Lone has so far been able to spend time with Thet Htar Angel twice, on October 27 and November 24, in a special room at Insein Prison. Pan Ei Mon said he is able to meet his daughter once a month for thirty minutes.

Pan Ei Mon conveyed questions from Frontier when she visited her husband on December 8 and he spoke of how badly he misses his daughter.

“I’m very happy when I spend time with her; I love her very much,” Wa Lone said. “I don’t want to give her back; I want her stay with me, but it’s impossible.”

Wa Lone said Thet Htar Angel had vomited on a shirt he was wearing and he could not bear to wash it because he did not want to forget how she smelled.

“I want to be freed from this prison and be with my family. My colleague and I are not guilty,” he said.

As well as planting trees, Wa Lone is teaching English to Kyaw Soe Oo, 28. He also plays table tennis with friends during the day and reads at night.

The support of Myanmar and international journalists and media freedom advocates was a source of strength for him and Kyaw Soe Oo, said Wa Lone.

Kyaw Soe Oo said he worries about his wife and daughter because of the difficulties they now face in their lives, and he fervently wishes to be reunited with them.

“We are not criminals. We did not breach ethics or break the law but we have been sentenced to seven years in jail. I worry that my daughter will regard me as a criminal,” Kyaw Soe Oo said.

Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Ma Chit Su, 23, said her husband did not want their daughter taken to Insein. Ma Moe Thin Wai Zan, 3, has been told that her father is working at the prison for his family.

“Sometimes, my daughter says to me that she thinks hpay hpay [father] doesn’t love her. I told her ‘No’, your father is working at the prison for us,” Chit Su said.

She told Frontier one of the first things her husband wants to do after he is freed is to take the family on a beach holiday. The government should release Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone because they did nothing wrong, she said.

U Nyan Hlaing Lin, editor-in-chief of Hintha Media and a former colleague of Wa Lone, said the National League for Democracy government should investigate the circumstances of the two journalists’ arrests because of the testimony during the trial that they were victims of entrapment.

“The government should consider the circumstances around their arrest rather than the verdict in this case,” he said.

The case was discussed at a meeting between the Myanmar Press Council and President U Win Myint in Nay Pyi Taw on December 3.

MPC joint secretary U Myint Kyaw said the government should release the journalists for the country’s dignity.

However, he said the council was divided on the issue, with some members – including current chairman U Ohn Kyaing – criticising the Reuters journalists for uncovering evidence of military atrocities.

“Those members said that the Reuters journalists should not have written that story if they loved the country,” he said. “Although we’ve been able to help the two journalists to some extent, it hasn’t been successful because most members don’t agree.”

By Ye Mon

By Ye Mon

Ye Mon started as a reporter at Pyithu Khit news journal in 2011. Prior to joining Frontier, he worked as a reporter at the Myanmar Times and on the DVB English team.
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