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Reuters Journalists Free After Over 500 Days in Prison

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  • Two Reuters journalists who had been imprisoned in Myanmar were released on Tuesday after being detained for more than 500 days.
  • Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December of 2017 for allegedly possessing state secrets, though many believe their arrest was a set-up and that the two were targeted for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis.
  • The journalists were originally sentenced to seven years in prison but were pardoned by President Win Myint along with 6,520 other prisoners.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo Freed

The two Reuters journalists, who many believe were arrested in Myanmar for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis, were released from prison Tuesday after being detained for over 500 days.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were released as part of a pardon of 6,520 prisoners by President Win Myint, effectively commuting what had originally been a seven-year sentence. The two journalists were seen smiling and waving in videos and photos of them walking out of the gates of the prison before they were mobbed by journalists and photographers.

“Around the world, people wishing to release us, so I would like to say thank you very much,” Lone told reporters following his release. “I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.”

The two were then taken to see their families where they were both reunited with their wives and daughters. Lone, whose daughter was born while he was in prison, was able to hold his baby for the first time as a free man. Soe Oo was also reunited with his three-year-old daughter, who has been separated from her father for much of her life.

Background

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December 2017 for allegedly possessing secret documents.

Their arrest is widely believed to have been a set-up. Many argue that the journalists were actually being targeted for their reporting on crimes against the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar.

For the last few years, the Rohingya have been forced to flee persecution from state security forces in what has amounted to a huge refugee crisis. Many experts have labeled the persecution of Rohingya as a genocide or ethnic cleansing, but military and civilian officials have denied this.

The police asked to meet with Lone and Soe Oo, who agreed. During their meeting, the police and handed the journalists rolled up documents as they were leaving. The officers then promptly arrested the two men for having those same documents.

Police officials and the Burmese government have maintained that they were not arrested because of their coverage of the crisis, but the conditions of their arrest and sentencing have been questionable at best.

Then in September 2018, Lone and Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison. Much like the conditions of their arrest, the testimonies against them were questionable. One police officer admitting burning his notes, and another witness read parts of testimony off notes on his hand.

The journalists’ imprisonment immediately sparked international outrage, with many world leaders arguing that the government was censoring them for their reporting. Lone and Soe Oo appealed the case to a regional high court, but lost the appeal in January.

They then appealed to the Myanmar Supreme Court, which denied their appeal on April 22. After the Supreme Court decision, it seemed like all hope was lost, until their release was reported Tuesday, in a move that surprised the international community.

International Response

Numerous leaders all around the world have celebrated the journalists’ newfound freedom, expressing hope that their release represents a trend in more democratic press practices in Myanmar.

“We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters, Wa Lone and Soe Oo,” Stephen Adler, the editor-in-chief of Reuters said in a statement. “Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return.”

Vice President Mike Pence commended their release in a tweet, writing, “Freedom of religion & freedom of the press are essential to a strong democracy!”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also praised the move, saying “Freedom of the press is a fundamental right & must be defended everywhere in the world.”

“It is inspiring to see a news organisation so committed to the protection of innocent men and the profession of journalism,” said Amal Clooney, who was part of the journalists’ legal team said. “I hope that their release signals a renewed commitment to press freedom in Myanmar.”

The move was also applauded by human rights organizations and leaders, but many also expressed concern for the future.

“Today marks an important victory for press freedom in Myanmar.” Nicholas Bequelin Amnesty International’s East and Southeast Asia Director wrote in a statement.

“While all those who campaigned for their release welcome the government’s decision, the reality is the country retains a range of repressive laws used to detain journalists, activists and any perceived critic of the authorities,” Bequelin added.

“Until these laws are repealed, journalists and activists remain under a permanent threat of detention and arrest.”

What Next?

Bequelin’s statement, which was also echoed by Amal Clooney, hits on an important note. This case has been widely covered in international media for nearly a year and a half, and now it seems to have a happy ending no one expected.

While that is certainly true for Lone and Soe Oo, their release also begs the question: does this show a new commitment to press freedom in Myanmar?

Following their sentencing, many looked to Myanmar’s new civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to fight for democracy in Myanmar. The international community hoped that Suu Kyi, whose role is comparable to that of a prime minister, would help usher in a new transition to more democratic practices following a long history of military rule.

Suu Kyi’s government was largely expected to end the imprisonment of government critics, pardon political prisoners, and continue to work towards free media. Instead, her government has cracked down on free expression and continued to use outdated laws to imprison people like Lone and Soe Oo.

In fact, Amnesty International has reported that in recent weeks they have “recorded a surge in politically motivated arrests – most for criticism of the military.”

Suu Kyi has also come under a lot of fire for her handling of the Reuters journalists. While she had the power to pardon them, she defended the court’s decision.

“They were not jailed because they were journalists,” Suu Kyi said following the sentencing. “The court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act”

Meanwhile, the violent persecution of the Rohingya continues with no accountability from the military or Suu Kyi, who until the last few years has largely been considered a beacon of the fight for human rights and democracy globally.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Guardian) (CNN)

International

Iran Blamed for Strike on Saudi Oil Plants

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  • A massive attack on Saudi oil plants Saturday wiped out nearly 5% of global oil supplies.
  • Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran was behind the strikes.
  • President Donald Trump did not directly name who launched the attack but said the U.S. was  “locked and loaded” to respond. He later indicated Iran may have been behind the attacks in a tweet Monday morning.
  • Saudi officials said on Monday that Iranian weapons were used.

Saudi Arabia Says Iranian Weapons Used in Attack

Saudi Arabia said Monday that Iranian weapons were used for drone strikes that decimated a group of Saudi oil facilities Saturday.

According to reports, the attack wiped out nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Saudi Arabia produces about 10% of the world’s oil, meaning that the attacks singlehandedly knocked out 5% of all global oil supplies. 

Some have argued it is one of the most significant military operations against Saudi Arabia’s critical infrastructure ever.

Shortly after the strike, Houthi rebels in Yemen issued a statement claiming that they were behind the attacks.

Since 2015, Yemen has been engaged in an incredibly violent civil war between Houthi rebels backed by Iran, and the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

Saudi Arabia has received a lot of international backlash for launching airstrikes in Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians, also prompting many to question the relationship the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia.

Now, Houthi leaders are describing Saturday’s strike on Saudi oil plants as their “right” to retaliate the airstrikes that have targeted their civilians.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also echoed that sentiment Monday, while speaking at a joint news conference.

“Yemeni people are exercising their legitimate right of defense,” he said. “The attacks were a reciprocal response to aggression against Yemen for years.”

U.S. Response

Despite the fact that the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter Saturday to blame Iran.

“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” he wrote. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

Pompeo also called on other nations to “condemn Iran’s attacks,” and added that the U.S. was working to make sure “Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”

The following day, President Donald Trump also addressed the incident on Twitter, though he did not directly blame Iran like Pompeo.

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked,” he wrote. “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

However, Trump seemed to reference Iran more specifically in another tweet on Monday, where he noted an earlier incident involving a U.S. drone being shot down in contested airspace.

“Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their ‘airspace’ when, in fact, it was nowhere close,” the President wrote. “They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”

Iran for its part has denied any involvement in the attacks. Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded to Pompeo’s claims in a tweet on Sunday.

“Having failed at ‘max pressure’, @SecPompeo’s turning to ‘max deceit’ US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory,” he said.  “Blaming Iran won’t end disaster. Accepting our April ’15 proposal to end war & begin talks may.”

Implications Moving Forward

While announcing that Saudi officials claim Iranian weapons were used in the attack, a Saudi military spokesperson also said that the strikes did not originate from within Yemen.

U.S. officials have separately confirmed to the media that they are operating on the assumption that the strikes did not come from inside Yemen. A number of officials and experts have also claimed that the Houthis do not have the capabilities to initiate a strike of this scale on their own.

Some U.S. officials have additionally told reporters that they do not believe the strikes originated in Iraq, debunking an earlier theory.

Neither U.S. nor Saudi officials have not provided evidence that Iran launched the strike or that Iranian weapons were used. However, on the other side, Houthi leaders have also not provided any evidence that they carried out the attack.

Currently, senior U.S. officials are reportedly deliberating about how to respond.

Many foreign leaders are again warning the U.S. not to get drawn into a war. Leaders in both Britain and Germany condemned the attacks on Monday but did not directly blame Iran.

“In terms of who is responsible, the picture is not entirely clear,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “I want to have a very clear picture, which we will be having shortly.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a news conference that his country was working to find out who carried out the attacks. China’s Foreign Ministry also warned world leaders against naming a culprit “without conclusive facts.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry took a bit of a firmer stance and warned the U.S. against blaming Iran, saying in a statement that “jumping to conclusions” as the United States often does is “counterproductive” and also calling military retaliation “unacceptable.”

Regardless, many experts are now saying that the attack undermines any kind of hopes for diplomacy between Iran and the U.S. Though to be fair, those chances were fairly slim before this happened.

Iran, for its part, has repeatedly said it will not meet with Trump or any U.S. officials as long as sanctions are in place

As for the Houthis, a military spokesperson said in a statement that foreigners in Saudi Arabia should leave the area near Saturday’s attacks, saying that those facilities could be attacked again at “any moment.”

“We assure the Saudi regime that our long hand can reach wherever we want, and whenever we want,” the spokesperson added.

Oil prices meanwhile skyrocketed following the attack. However, it appears as though Saudi Arabia and oil experts do not expect any long term impacts.

President Trump, however, seemed to be more skeptical of Saudi oil reserves

“Based on the attack on Saudi Arabia, which may have an impact on oil prices, I have authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed,” the President said in a tweet Sunday. “I have also informed all appropriate agencies to expedite approvals of the oil pipelines currently in the permitting process in Texas and various other States.”

“PLENTY OF OIL!” the President tweeted shortly after, seemingly in reference to the attacks on Saudi oil.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)

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International

Parliament Blocks Boris Johnson From Executing No-Deal Brexit

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  • British Parliament successfully passed a bill that blocks the U.K. from leaving the EU without a deal ahead of the U.K.’s Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
  • The House of Commons denied Prime Minister Boris Johnson a chance to hold snap elections for the second time.
  • Parliament has now been suspended until Oct. 19, per Johnson’s request. Opposition lawmakers openly protested the suspension in the House of Commons on Monday.

No-Deal Brexit Block

British Parliament passed a law preventing the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union on Monday ahead of its current Oct. 31 deadline. Lawmakers also passed an order forcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to release private communications about his Brexit plans and blocked his second attempt to hold snap elections.

Last week, the House of Commons passed a first version of the bill after taking control of the House away from Johnson. After being sent to the House of Lords, it was then passed again and sent back to the Commons, which approved final amendments. The bill was finally enacted into law after receiving formal assent from Queen Elizabeth II. 

The passage of the law means Johnson may be forced to go back to the EU and ask for an extension to the current Oct. 31 deadline, something Johnson has repeatedly said he will not do.

Many now fear Johnson will attempt to find a loophole or challenge the law in court after he said Monday he would not allow the U.K. to remain in the EU following the deadline. Others have speculated Johnson might attempt to ignore the law altogether. 

Despite this, Johnson said Monday that a no-deal Brexit would be a failure of the state, saying he would be partially to blame.

“I want to get a deal,” Johnson said in a press conference with the Irish Prime Minister. “Like you, I have looked carefully at no-deal. I have assessed its consequences… and yes, of course, we could do it. The U.K. could certainly get through it, but be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible.” 

Second Vote for Elections

Johnson also held another vote for elections after a vote in the Commons last week failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to pass; however, this vote similarly failed to attract that majority.

Johnson has argued he wants the British people to decide how lawmakers handle Brexit through elections, which would open up all 650 seats in the House of Commons three years early. That would also include his own position as prime minister.

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said he is eager to hold elections but wants the party to focus on ensuring a no-deal is fully blocked ahead of the October deadline. Many lawmakers, however, said they expect elections to be held by the end of the year.

Vote Over Johnson’s Private Communications

The Commons held another vote that requires Johnson to hand over private communications about his Brexit plans. 

The order comes after Johnson requested to suspend or “prorogue” parliament an additional week on top of an already scheduled recess. It primarily seeks to investigate why he issued the suspension, which will limit the time lawmakers have to discuss a Brexit deal. 

While Johnson has said the prorogue was called to create a “bold” new domestic agenda following Brexit, opposition lawmakers have rebuked the claim and denounced it as a power-grab by Johnson to be able to execute a no-deal, if necessary. 

“We will consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course,” a spokesperson for Johnson said after calling the information request “disproportionate and unprecedented.”

Parliament is Suspended

Following Monday’s votes, parliament was suspended until Oct. 14. That means it will only have a little more than two weeks to agree on a deal before it reaches the Oct. 31 deadline. 

Notably, the law barring a no-deal Brexit will force Johnson to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline until January if a deal is not reached by Oct. 19. 

A day prior to that, Johnson will attend an EU summit in Brussels where he will try to strike a deal. 

During the traditional prorogation proceedings, many opposition lawmakers broke formality and jeered, chanting “Shame on you!” and holding signs that read, “Silenced,” in reference to Johnson’s suspension.

Before the suspension began, House Speaker John Bercow announced he will be resigning on Oct. 31. Bercow is known for his flamboyant remarks during House proceedings.

“This is not a standard or normal prorogation,” he said Monday. 

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (Wall Street Journal)

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One Person Dies Every 40 Seconds From Suicide, WHO Says

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  • Despite progress in national suicide prevention strategies, one person dies every 40 seconds from suicide and only 38 countries have prevention practices in place. 
  • WHO said some ways to help reduce suicide rates are to restrict access to means often used, educate the media on responsible suicide reporting, identify people at risk early, and implement programs to teach young people how to better cope with stress.
  • The agency also launched its “40 Seconds of Action Campaign” in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, encouraging those struggling to take 40 seconds to reach out to someone they trust. You can also support the campaign by initiating private conversations or sharing messages of hope with someone you are concerned for.

Suicide Prevention 

One person dies every 40 seconds from suicide, the World Health Organisation said in a news release Monday, ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day. 

While the number of countries with national suicide prevention strategies has increased in the five years since WHO issued its first global report on suicide, the agency said the overall number is still too low.

Just 38 counties have strategies in place and the WHO is encouraging more governments to commit to establishing similar life-saving practices.

“Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. Yet suicides are preventable. We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes in a sustainable way,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

According to WHO data, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide every year. “While 79% of the world’s suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries, high-income countries had the highest rate, at 11.5 per 100 000,” the WHO said.

“Nearly three times as many men as women die by suicide in high-income countries, in contrast to low- and middle-income countries, where the rate is more equal,” their statement continued. 

Their data also found that in 2016, suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people between 15-29, after road injury. For teens 15-19, suicide was the second leading cause of death among girls and the third leading causing of death in boys.

Key Ways to Prevent Suicides

WHO said one way to decrease global suicide rates is to limit access to means often used. The agency said the most common methods of suicide are hanging, pesticide poisoning, and firearms. “The intervention that has the most imminent potential to bring down the number of suicides is restricting access to pesticides that are used for self-poisoning,” WHO said. 

For instance, in Sri Lanka, a series of bans on hazardous pesticides lead to a 70% fall in suicides, saving an estimated 93,000 lives from 1995 to 2015, according to the WHO news release.

Similarly, in South Korea, the herbicide paraquat accounted for the majority of pesticide suicide deaths in the 2000s. But when paraquat was banned in 2011-2013, suicide rates decreased by 50% the following year. 

The agency also recommends reducing suicide by educating the media on how to report responsibly on the topic, identifying people at risk early on, following up with those at risk, and helping younger people build skills to better cope with stress. 

World Suicide Prevention Day

The WHO partnered with the World Federation for Mental Health, the International Association for Suicide Prevention, and United for Global Mental Health, to launch a campaign on Tuesday called the “40 Seconds of Action Campaign.”

The campaign encourages those struggling with suicidal thoughts to take 40 seconds to start a conversation with someone they trust about their feelings. 


You can also support the campaign by initiating private conversations with someone you are concerned for or sharing a message of hope with someone you know is struggling.

According to the agency, “If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, talk to them about it. Listen with an open mind and offer your support.” WHO also has a website with more resources about what you can do and how to identify warning signs. 

Those struggling with suicidal thoughts can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the U.S. from the Crisis Text Line. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (UN News) (Euro News)

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