Next week marks one year since Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained in Myanmar, and their story, along with many others’, has been transformed into a educational resource in the form of a children’s book.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were imprisoned after photographing gruesome scenes following a Burmese military assault on innocent civilians. Over 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar in the past year, following a government-led ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the northern part of the country.
Today, the moment of hope and optimism for Myanmar seems like a distant memory.
From a CPJ ad in the @washingtonpost Monday calling for the release of the 2 Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, from prison in #Myanmar.@OfficialSuuKyi @ZawHtayMyanmar #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo pic.twitter.com/KqHsvfij9i
— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) November 26, 2018
In 2014, five journalists were imprisoned for ten years and subjected to hard labor after they published a critical report of the country.
More recently, Reporters Without Borders reports that about 20 journalists were arrested and faced prosecution by Myanmar’s government in 2017. Many of these arrests were justified by the government under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, as well as the Telecommunications Act.
Section 3.1c of the Official Secrets Act states that any journalist suspected of collecting secret government documents that may be of worth to adversaries can be prosecuted. The Telecommunications Act, namely article 66 (d), has provided the government grounds for prosecution of journalists for online defamation.
The imprisonment of the Reuters journalists gained worldwide attention. When the two were given seven-year sentences in September, Reporters Without Borders condemned Myanmar’s actions, and threatened to lower the country’s World Press Freedom Index ranking.
Wa Lone continued educating the world about the dangers of locking up journalists: by publishing a children’s book.
Lone is the co-founder of The Third Story Project, a non-profit organization geared towards publishing children’s books for the youth of Myanmar. This organization is known for addressing issues such as tolerance, peace, and human rights. They also distribute their publications throughout Myanmar free of charge.
Third Story launched in 2014 and has published more than 40 books since then. Wa Lone himself published a book through Third Story titled Gardener, which focused on environmental awareness.
Ei Pwint Rhi Zan, the director of Third Story, reached out to Lone earlier this year to pitch an idea for a children’s book discussing the censorship and suppression of journalists in recent years in Myanmar. Wa Lone fully supported the concept, and after his wife Pan Ei Mon transported many drafts back and forth between Third Story and Lone’s prison, the book was finally published.
Meet « Jay Jay the Journalist » – a book about curiosity and critical thinking that Wa Lone has written in prison for the Third Story Project, an organisation he has cofounded that is promoting tolerance and peace with children’s books. Heartwarming! #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo pic.twitter.com/8UcOO6E86L
— Verena Hölzl (@verenahoelzl) September 11, 2018
Third Story named the book Jay Jay the Journalist and printed 6,000 copies. Five thousand were donated to Burmese schools, libraries, and monasteries. Many books were sent to rural villages, where suppression of information particularly prevalent. Third Party also runs a store in Yangon, where the book is easily accessible.
Ei Pwint Rhi Zan stated that Third Story wants to “encourage children to ask a lot of questions,” as she believes censorship and journalist suppression is reaching historically high levels.
Lone, who has been described by colleagues as “passionate about helping communities in need,” wrote Jay Jay the Journalist and based the with a main female character on his own daughter.
Antoni Slodkowski describes Wa Lone as “courageous” and a “truth seeker,” and adds that he is not surprised that Lone continues to serve his community behind bars.
The reception to Lone’s children’s book has been positive from both students and teachers. Third Story now has a series planned for Jay Jay the Journalist, and as of November, Wa Lone completed a draft of the book’s sequel.
The next book in the series is scheduled to be published in early 2019.
Happy owner of Wa Lone's new kids' book, Jay Jay the Journalist
If you're in Yangon, make a beeline to the Third Story salesroom on 40th St, between Anawratha and Mahabandoola
I have a feeling this one may sell out pic.twitter.com/n3vauwk2f0
— Ben Dunant (@BenedictDunant) September 12, 2018