- 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.
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.
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.”
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)
Gang That Kidnapped American and Canadian Missionaries in Haiti Seeks $17 Million Ransom
The incident has fueled calls for the government to take action against gangs, which control many territories in the country and have repeatedly carried out large-scale abductions for ransom
The gang that abducted 17 American and Canadian missionaries in Haiti on Saturday is demanding $17 million for their safe release, Haitian officials said Monday.
The group, which consists of one Canadian and 16 Americans, are all part of Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish and Mennonite charity based out of Ohio with a long history of working in Haiti.
While on their way to visit an orphanage in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince, the group’s bus was stopped at gunpoint by the 400 Mawozo gang. The gang is known for being one the most dangerous in the area, reportedly having about 150 members.
Multiple outlets, including CNN and Reuters, report that during the gang’s confrontation with the missionaries some victims managed to get messages out to associates to let them know what was going on. One even managed to drop a pin location on his mobile phone, helping authorities get a better idea of where exactly this happened.
By 4:53 p.m on Saturday, the kidnappers contacted Christian Aid Ministries to make their steep demands. According to authorities, the request is a noticeable jump from the thousands to tens of thousands the gang typically asks for.
Lack of Government Control
While Haitian authorities are involved in the investigation to free the missionaries, they actually have little power in the area. Croix des Bouquets is largely out of the government’s control and is instead run by 400 Mawozo. Government authority being replaced by gang activity isn’t uncommon in Haiti, and in some places, government control is almost completely lacking. This was highlighted on Sunday when Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to turn back from a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of revolutionary war hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines due to its placement in gang territory.
The issue makes recovering the missionaries far more complex, but Haitian authorities aren’t alone. The FBI has been involved in the investigation and is continuing to help Haitian authorities.
“The FBI is part of a coordinated US government effort to get the Americans involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, no further information is available at this time,” The agency said in a statement to Reuters.
Reports indicate that the hostages are being held in some kind of safe house for the gang. Currently, no one is believed to be physically hurt. The gang has warned against harming the hostages, although according to a Haitian security forces member who spoke with CNN, the group didn’t seem too worried about those threats.
Haitians Call for Changes
Abductions in Haiti have always been an issue, but the problem has become particularly bad lately. In 2020, the Haitian National Police reported 234 kidnappings. In the first eight months of this year, there have been at least 328.
Some organizations claim that number is actually low. In fact, the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights reported that at least 600 people have been abducted this year. The center said that much of the increase was caused by 400 Mawozo, who have figured out that kidnapping busloads of people is more profitable than just taking individuals.
The issue is so prolific that just before the kidnapping on Saturday, a Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike starting Monday, with its president further justifying the move in a written statement a day later.
“We call on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide us safety or for them to resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transportation sector is an easy target for kidnappers all over the country,” Union President Méhu Changeux wrote. “We lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country.”
Since Monday, many parts of the country have come to a standstill amid the strike, putting increased pressure on a government with little resources to handle the underlying cause of discontent: gang activity and government instability.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Associated Press)
5 Dead, 2 Injured After Bow and Arrow Attack in Norway
Police have called the incident a terror attack, though exact details regarding the suspect’s motives remain unclear.
Super Market Attack
The Norwegian town of Kongsberg is reeling from a deadly incident at Coop Extra supermarket on Wednesday that police are treating as “an act of terrorism.”
Shortly before 6 p.m., a 37-year old Danish man entered the market, armed with a bow and arrow, along with other weapons. He then began firing at those inside the building.
Authorities quickly responded and were on the scene within five minutes. Despite a police confrontation with the suspect, the attack continued. Four women and one man were ultimately killed while two others were left injured.
The suspect initially avoided arrest after managing to flee the scene. Police Chief Ole Bredrup Sæverud told reporters Thursday that it took 35 minutes to catch the attacker.
While police described the incident as a terror attack, they refused to specify a motive. Officials did hint that the rampage might have been religiously motivated by revealing that police had previously been in contact with the suspect due to his conversion to Islam and possible connections to radical content and teachings. Still, Sæverud clarified that the perpetrator hadn’t been actively investigated at all in 2021.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was just hours away from leaving office after she was ousted in recent elections, described reports of the scene as “horrifying” on Wednesday. Incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in a Facebook post from Thursday morning that the attack was a “cruel and brutal act.”
Norway’s King Harald expressed his sympathies to the mayor of Kongs-berg, telling the country, “We sympathize with the relatives and injured in the grief and despair.”
“And we think of all those affected in Kongs-berg who have experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place. It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”
Attacks of this nature are rare in Norway. In 2019, a right-wing gunman tried to enter a mosque before being overpowered and hitting no one. Wednesday’s attack is the most deadly since July 2011, when a far-right extremist killed 77 people at a Labour party summer camp.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Protests Erupt in Italy Over World’s Toughest Vaccine Mandate
The violence is believed to have been instigated by far-right groups that oppose COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic-related safety measures.
Green Pass Pushback
Demonstrators gathered in Rome over the weekend to protest against Italy’s plans to require a coronavirus “Green Pass” for all workers starting Oct. 15.
The Green Pass is a European Union initiative that shows whether someone is vaccinated, has recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or has received a negative COVID test in the past 48 hours.
Since August, Italy has required the pass for entry at restaurants and use of long-distance trains, along with nearly every other activity that involves interaction with others or use of a public space. Now, the pass will be required to enter a workplace, which critics argue is particularly harsh.
Individuals who can’t produce a valid Green Pass will be suspended without pay, making it the most extreme of any COVID-19 mandate in the world.
The weekend protests started out peaceful, with people chanting “Liberta,” which means freedom. However, the scene turned violent by Saturday when a group of protesters affiliated with the far-right Forza Nuova party decided to storm the headquarters of the CGIL, Italy’s biggest and oldest labor union.
Protesters then marched towards the Prime Minister’s office, prompting police to respond with anti-riot measures like tear gas, water cannons, and shield charges.
It’s unclear how many protesters were hurt in the ongoing fighting, but dozen of police officers were reportedly hurt in the scuffle. By Sunday evening. at least 12 protesters were arrested, many of who are members of Forza Nuova, including its leader Roberto Fiore. Authorities also indicated in a press conference on Monday that it had identified at least 600 other people who took part in illegal activities during the demonstrations.
Fiore was unapologetic about the rioting, and Forza Nuova said in a statement, “The popular revolution will not stop, with or without us, until the Green Pass is definitively withdrawn. Saturday was a watershed between the old and the new. The people decided to raise the level of the clash.”
Saturday’s events have led many of the country’s largest political parties, including the 5Star Movement and the Democratic Paty, to support a motion calling for Nuova Forza and similar groups to be dismantled in line with a constitutional provision from 1952 that bans fascists parties.
While that motion is still going through the legislative process, prosecutors have already seized the group’s website in line with a 1988 law that bans inciting violence through public communications.
“The events [on Saturday] take us back to the darkest and most dramatic moments of our history and they are an extremely serious and unacceptable attack on democracy,” Valeria Fedeli, a senator with the center-left Democratic Party, said on Monday.
The violence from the weekend may make it seem like a sizeable chunk of Italians are against the vaccine; however, over 70% of all Italians are already vaccinated, making it one of the highest rates in the world.
According to polling from the summer, most Italians think the new rules will help in the long run and prevent another catastrophe like last year when the country ran out of room to bury the dead due to the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.