Myanmar Soldiers Jailed for Muslim Massacre Served Less Time Than Journalists Who Uncovered the Killings: Report

Myanmar soldiers Muslim massacre journalists Rohingya
This file photograph taken on October 21, 2016, shows Myanmar soldiers patroling a village in Rakhine state during security operations against militant Rohingya Muslims. STR/AFP/Getty Images

Seven soldiers accused of involvement in the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers in Myanmar have reportedly been granted early release, having served less jail time than two Reuters reporters who first uncovered the crime.

Citing two prison officials, two former fellow inmates and one of the soldiers, Reuters reported that seven troops were freed from prison in November last year, having served less than one year of their 10-year sentence for the executions in Inn Din village in the western state of Rakhine.

The reports were confirmed by Win Naing, the chief warden at Rakhine's Sittwe Prison, and a senior prison official in the capital city of Naypyitaw. The senior official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters the inmates' "punishment was reduced by the military."

Neither official was willing to confirm the exact date of the soldiers' release, but two former inmates said they were freed in November. Two journalists who uncovered the killings—Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo—were freed in an amnesty on May 6 after more than 16 months in jail. They were accused of obtaining state secrets.

The 2017 killings occurred as Myanmar's military drove some 730,000 Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine and into Bangladesh. The minority group has long been marginalized by the country's Buddhist majority, but following attacks by Rohingya insurgents the government launched a harsh and wide-ranging crackdown on the ethnic group.

The operations have continued despite international condemnation, much of which has been directed at State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi—the famed pro-democracy campaigner, human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The United Nations said the Rakhine operation was conducted with "genocidal intent" and involved mass killings, gang rapes and arson. The military was assisted by local communities who also wished to expel the Rohingya.

The seven soldiers were the only personnel charged in relation to the operation. On September 1, the soldiers detained a group of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Inn Din with the help of local paramilitary forces and Buddhist vigilantes.

The next morning, witnesses told Reuters that the group was marched to scrubland north of the village, where some were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers wielding swords and the rest were shot to death by supervising soldiers.

The military denied being at fault and said the sentences for the seven soldiers showed that its troops were not above the law. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who is the military's commander in chief, told the United Nations Security Council in April 2018: "We will not forgive anyone if they commit [a] crime."

But one of the soldiers—Zin Paing Soe—confirmed to Reuters by phone that he was a member of the group now freed. He did not elaborate, telling the agency: "We were told to shut up."

Two former fellow prisoners said the soldiers were well-known among prisoners. One, a political activist called Aung Than Wai, said a Rakhine Buddhist villager who also jailed over the Inn Din killings is still in prison serving a five-year sentence. Aung Than Wai also said the soldiers were given special treatment while jailed, provided with beer and cigarettes not allowed for other inmates.