February 7, 2018
Columbia Journalism Students organize a book drive for detained Reuters journalists in Myanmar
by Stephanie DeLuca
This past December, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists, were unjustly detained in Myanmar following their coverage of the humanitarian crisis caused by ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The two are currently awaiting sentence inside Yangon’s Insein prison, with as many as fourteen years on the line.
In an act of solidarity and an effort to raise the reporters’ spirits, students at the Columbia School of Journalism are collecting books and messages of support to send them, according to a report at Study International News. Materials will be gathered on the school’s campus and delivered to Wa Lone’s brother in Myanmar.
Fifty Pulitzer Prize winners have spoken out against these arrests, calling them “an outrageous attack on media freedom. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are brave, principled and professional journalists who were working in the public interest and were jailed simply for doing their jobs.” They join a chorus of outrage alongside Human Rights Watch, the UN, Bill Clinton, and many others.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act after obtaining “important secret papers” from police. The international community has largely viewed the arrests as part of a long legacy of human rights violations and media suppression. Yanghee Lee and David Kaye, UN special rapporteurs on Myanmar and on freedom of expression, told Study International, “These detentions are another way for the government to censor information about the military’s role in Rakhine State and the humanitarian catastrophe taking place.”
The book drive has the potential to lift the journalists’ spirts, providing them with the fortitude they’ll need to survive their present ordeal.
It is not yet clear what impact the arrests may have on the ability of journalists to cover the events unfolding in Rakhine, which have already sent 650,000 refugees in flight to neighboring Bangladesh.
Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.