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Wa Lone (1986)

A journalist for the Rohingya

Wa Lone is originally from Kin Pyit, a village of around 100 families north of Mandalay in Myanmar's arid central plain. The son of rice farmers and motherless since childhood, Wa Lone has always been deeply interested in the news. One of his siblings remembers him, aged 10, intent on following the news on a shared television in their village.

In 2004, Wa Lone moved to a Buddhist monastery where his uncle was a monk, cleaning cells and preparing food for the monks in exchange for hospitality and working in a photo service business. In 2010, he returned to Yangon, starting a photoshoot business and enrolling in an online training school and an English course. Within a few months, he got his first job as a journalist, writing on the weekly People's Age. Still, it was only in 2014 that his career took a real leap forward: Wa Lone joined the editorial staff of the Myanmar Times, reporting on the 2015 general elections that brought Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Sui Kyi to power after the exile. "As soon as I met Wa Lone, I knew we had to hire him. - said the paper's former publisher, Thomas Kean - He was thoughtful, caring and clearly born for journalism." At the Myanmar Times, he met what would become his wife, Pan Ei Mon.

During those years, Wa Lone wrote a children's book, entitled The Gardener, and founded the Third Story Project. This charity produces and distributes stories promoting tolerance among Myanmar's diverse ethnic groups and supporting orphans. Wa Lone travels across the country to spread these stories, especially to poor rural villages, giving books to children or reading the stories to them.

In 2016, Wa Lone joined Reuters, covering sensitive topics such as the military's land grabbing and the murder of politician Ko Ni. For Reuters, he began reporting on the Rohingya, the "stateless people" originally from Rakhine and the subject of a full-blown ethnic cleansing operation since 2017. Covering the violence of the Burmese army is difficult, especially in a country that is still experiencing the aftermath of the military junta. Hence, Wa Lone's reportages have turned him into a target. In December 2017, together with his colleague Kyaw Soe Oo, he was arrested in Yangon, on the grounds that he illegally possessed some official documents concerning the killing of 10 men by a group of soldiers and villagers in northern Rakhine. Wa Lone was thus sentenced to 7 years in prison for violating the Secrets Act.

Both Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo claimed innocence and accused the police of having framed them. Wa Lone and Kyaw Sow Oo said the police invited them to dinner, giving them the same State documents for which they were detained. Dozens of journalists and activists protested on the streets of Yangon against what was seen as a clear threat to press freedom. "I am not afraid," Wa Lone said, "I have done nothing wrong, and I believe in justice and democracy.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were released, in May 2019, after more than 500 days in prison. Their release was only possible due to a general amnesty, following which 6520 prisoners were released.

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Righteous Encyclopedia - Rohingya Genocide

The story of the Rohingyas is the story of one of the most persecuted people in the world. The Rohingya come from the Rakhine state, a borderland with Bangladesh in Western Myanmar. They are Muslims, and they are not recognized as citizens in any country.

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