Wa Lone, one of the two Reuters journalists sentenced to seven years prison in Myanmar on Monday for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis, knew what it was like to be poor.
He grew up in a small village of around 100 households north of Mandalay, one of a family of five children. His parents were rice farmers and there was little money to go around, according to Reuters. His mother died of cancer when he was a child.
Wa Lone developed a hunger for news at an early age, huddled round the one television of the village.
“Sometimes he would play at being an anchor,” his younger brother Thura Aung told Reuters late last year. “He always said he wanted to be a reporter in the future.”
Wa Lone finished school, but lack of funds meant he had to drop out of technical college at 16.
Around 2004 he went to live in a Buddhist monastery in Mawlamyine where his uncle was a monk. He would wake at dawn to cook and clean before going off to a job he had found in a photography shop. Later he would start his own photo business with his brother.
In December 2010, the brothers moved to Yangon, where they re-established their photo-services business, according to Reuters. Wa Lone also joined a media training school and began to learn English.
Six months later he got his first journalism job on a weekly paper, the People’s Age. The editor at the time was Pe Myint — now Myanmar’s Minister of Information — according to Reuters.
Wa Lone joined Reuters in July 2016 a couple of months after he married Pan Ei Mon and just as the Rohingya crisis erupted. His first story on the Reuters website was about a UN human rights investigator pointing the finger at the government.
“Wa Lone was in the first group in reporting about eight Rohingya women and girls raped at U Shey Kya village in Northern Maungdaw Township after the 9th October, 2016 attack,” Nay San Lwin, a Myanmar activist and blogger, told CNN. “A couple of days before his wedding he was in Maungdaw reporting about the Rohingya.”
He still found time to write a children’s book, “The Gardener,” which was published in Burmese and English and contained an environmental message.
But his diligent reporting apparently proved too much for the Myanmar government and he was arrested in December 2017. Wa Lone has yet to see his new daughter, who was born just three weeks ago.
A poet from Rakhine state
Arrested with Wa Lone was his friend and colleague Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who was a poet before becoming a journalist.
Hailing from Rakhine state, he started his career as a journalist with the online Rakhine Development News.
An ethnic Buddhist, Kyaw Soe Oo had five siblings, according to Reuters.
“He is a good elder brother,” his sister, Nyo Nyo Aye, told Reuters following her brother’s arrest last year. “He was always with books. He went to the bookstore or second-hand booksellers. He spent all his money buying books.”
He had only been a journalist with Reuters for three months before being arrested.
“Both have good humanity,” Nay San Lwin, the activist, told CNN. “Unlike other Burmese journalists in Myanmar, they called us Rohingya. They reported about us tirelessly. We are very sad they have been sentenced to seven years with hard labor for reporting our issue. We are praying for them.”
Kyaw Soe Oo has a three-year-old daughter. Following the announcement of the verdict on Monday, his wife, Chit Su Win, burst into tears, Reuters reported.