As It Happens

Reuters exposes a Rohingya massacre — but the reporters who uncovered it are still behind bars

Months after Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of were arrested for investigating a mass grave in Myanmar, Reuters has released what they discovered.
Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo is escorted by police after a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 1. (Jorge Silva/Reuters )
Listen7:04

Story transcript

In December, two Reuters journalists were arrested for investigating the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Now, Reuters has published its investigation into a massacre in a small village in Rakhine state. 

The special report lays out events leading up to the killing of 10 Rohingya men from Inn Din village on Sept. 2, 2017. They were buried in a mass grave after being hacked to death or shot by Buddhist neighbours and soldiers. 

The Reuters special report has prompted the United Nations to call for a thorough investigation into the violence in Rakhine state. 

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the journalists behind the investigation, remain in a prison while the courts decide if they should be charged with violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act . 

Antoni Slodkowski is the Myanmar bureau chief for Reuters, and one of the reporters who continued with the investigation.

He spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about what Reuters learned. Here is part of that conversation. 

Antoni, this is an extraordinary investigation and article. It begins with a photograph of 10 men, kneeling, with their hands behind their backs, in a row. What happened to those men?

As far as we know, these men were picked at random by the security forces and after that they were detained at a school for one night. And the following morning, they were hacked to death by some Rakhine Buddhist villagers and also shot by security forces and killed.

This photo was taken on the day the 10 Rohingya men were killed. Paramilitary police officer Aung Min, left, stands guard behind them. The picture was obtained from a Buddhist village elder, and authenticated by witnesses. (Reuters)

And that's not just speculation. What's extraordinary about it is that your Reuters reporter ... didn't just interview Rohingya who could corroborate what happened and who these men were, but actually spoke with the Buddhist villagers and military people who were involved with this operation that took place in this village. Is that right?  

Yes, exactly. The most important thing about this investigation is that while we've been hearing about fires and rapes and allegations of murder of the Rohingya Muslims, we've never really had such a powerful and detailed account from the Rakhine Buddhists.

And what's even more extraordinary, from the members of the security forces who also gave us insider accounts of how they raided and burned Rohingya villages.

Tell us about Inn Din and what we know happened to that village and the Muslims in it?

There were about 7,000 people in Inn Din, and the vast majority of them were Rohingya Muslims. On Aug. 25, Arakan, the Rohingya insurgent group, attacked 30 police posts. And one of the attacks actually happened not that far from Inn Din village itself. 

And what we know is that several members of the so-called village security group, which was this sort of informal group formed by the Rakhine Buddhist villagers, actively took part in military and police raids on Rohingya hamlets as part of the security forces-led relation campaign.

So everyone who was not killed in this operation fled and went into Bangladesh, is that right?

What's extraordinary about this reporting is that we actually found family members of pretty much all the 10 men and they were able to tell us exactly not only what occurred on the day of the arrests, but also ... about these men themselves.

These were fishermen, shopkeepers. There was one Islamic teacher. There were two students — one was 17, one was 18. 

Shuna Khatu, 30, whose husband Habizu was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on Sept. 2, 2017. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

You also ... spoke with the people who actually dug the grave and helped to inter these people. Why would these people tell you what they did?

It's very difficult to get into that mindset, but I think there are perhaps two major motivations in situations like that.

I think one is broadly a sense that something perhaps went wrong and that the scale and the intensity of this operation perhaps was more than people expected in their wildest dreams.

And then, perhaps the other thing is that there are a lot of people there who do not really see this as anything particularly to be ashamed of.

It's also due to the skill of your two reporters, Mr. Lone and Mr. Oo, who did this investigation, who are now in prison.

Wa Lone is an extraordinary, incredibly dogged and very hard working reporter. The issue of Rohingya in Myanmar is an incredibly divisive one and Wa Lone has stayed impartial, unbiased and he just wanted to get to the truth. 

And Kyaw Soe Oo is, in a way, even a more extraordinary character. He's actually a Rakhine Buddhist and there are very few Rakhine Buddhists who are able to report and see this situation and this crisis with this kind of level of, again, impartiality.

Sharing a byline with them on this story is the biggest honour of my professional life.  

Reuters' journalists Wa Lone, centre front, and Kyaw Soe Oo, centre back, are escorted by police as they leave the court after their first trial in Yangon on Jan. 10. (Lynn Bo Bo/EPA)

I'm sure that many considerations were given as to whether to publish the story while these men's fates and their future is so up in the air. Did you take into consideration what danger it might put them in?

Of course. We didn't make this decision lightly. We considered it very carefully.

When Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were first arrested, our primary concern was, indeed, their safety. But after their legal situation was a little bit clarified, we decided that it's our duty, it's our responsibility, to publish this story of global importance.

And that's what we do as reporters. We go out there, we find out the facts and then we publish stories.

With files from Reuters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our conversation with Antoni Slodkowski in the player above. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.