When the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were freed Tuesday after more than a year in Myanmar’s Insein prison, it was heralded as a victory for press freedom. The Pulitzer Prize–winning reporters, who were jailed in December 2017 for their reporting on the country’s crackdown of its Rohingya minority, were among thousands of prisoners released by the Myanmar government as part of a traditional mass amnesty to mark the start of the Buddhist New Year.
Their release was met with “relief” by the Committee to Protect Journalists, praised as “good news” by the United Nations, and dubbed an “important day for press freedom” by Amnesty International. But beyond the fanfare lies a more foreboding sentiment: that far from heralding a new era of press freedom, the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo represents a false dawn. Within Myanmar and across Southeast Asia, journalists have faced alarming crackdowns from their governments over what can be reported on, and how. From China to the Philippines, and virtually every country in between, journalists remain under near-constant threat of censorship, arrest, and detention.
“Southeast Asia has always been a tough yard to be a journalist,” Shawn Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia representative to the Committee to Protect Journalists, told me. “But it’s getting tougher.”
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