Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly linked the Pulitzer Center to the Pulitzer Prizes. This has been corrected.
Two Reuters reporters have been awarded one of journalism’s most prestigious prizes while locked in a cell in Myanmar’s most notorious prison.
The Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting was handed to Reuters, with a special mention for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who are serving seven years in Yangon’s Insein Prison for “exposing state secrets.”
The men led an explosive Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya men in the far western village of Inn Dinn – part of a military-led campaign against the Muslim minority which began in 2017. The Myanmar government denies human rights abuses, saying it was targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts in August 2017.
More than 720,000 Rohingya are estimated to have been forced to flee into Bangladesh as a result of the ensuing violence.
As the military tore through Rakhine state, allegedly killing with impunity, raping women and burning babies alive, authorities turned on the reporters trying to investigate the atrocities.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo say they were set up by a police officer posing as a source. They say that in late 2017, officers invited them to a secret meeting at a restaurant on the outskirts of Yangon and handed them documents.
Police swooped and arrested them with the classified information in their possession.
Now, as Myanmar’s Supreme Court hears their final appeal against conviction, Pulitzer prize administrator Dana Canedy announced that the pair had been inducted into the elite group of winners. This was “for expertly exposing the military units and Buddhist villagers responsible for the systematic expulsion and murder of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, courageous coverage that landed its reporters in prison.”
The reporting was “not just based on testimonies of victims, which are key and incredibly important, but it includes one after another stories from the people who actually did this, and in some cases were actually proud of what they had done,” Reuters Myanmar bureau chief Antoni Slodkowski told CNN late last year.
In April 2018 seven soldiers were sentenced to “10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area” for their part in the Inn Dinn massacre, where the victims were forced to dig their own graves the day before they were beaten, stabbed and shot to death.
The Reuters reporting elicited the only admission of guilt from the Myanmar government, which routinely rejects criticism of the actions of its troops in Muslim-majority villages in the far west of the mainly Buddhist nation.
As the world hails Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting, fellow prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa is facing increasing legal scrutiny in the Philippines.
Ressa shared Time’s 2018 Person of The Year award with the Reuters pair and other journalists as a ‘Guardian’ of truth, standing against what the magazine described as a global assault on the free press.
On Tuesday Ressa appeared in a Manila court to continue her appeal against a “cyber libel” charge brought against her organization, Rappler. The case is just one of 11 that Ressa and her staff face in what she says is a politically motivated attack on her ability to cover the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte.
The possible punishment for “cyber libel” has now been changed from one year to 12 years in prison, Ressa said on Tuesday.
“This is not just about Rappler – it has very serious implications for anyone writing on the internet. And we will fight,” she told CNN.
Duterte’s office has previously denied that the charges against Ressa and Rappler are politically motivated.