Two Myanmar journalists who were detained in Bangladesh for more than a month were allowed to leave the country, according to their lawyer.
Minzayar Oo, a member of British photo agency Panos Pictures, and his colleague, photographer Hkun Lat, left on a Biman Airlines flight from Dhaka Tuesday afternoon, Bangladeshi attorney Jyotirmoy Barua told VOA.
“Today we booked their ticket with Bangladesh Biman and they flew at 20 [minutes] past 12, and there was a clearance from the Bangladesh government for them to fly back to their own country instead of holding them here,” he said.
“Officially the government has decided to drop the case, so far we came to know from our sources," he added. " I think that was the reason to allow them to leave the country. So they’re gone now.”
Barua said afterwards he would try to ship them their camera equipment that was still in Dhaka either through friends or courier service.
Cox's Bazar trip
The pair had traveled to Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh to report on the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis, which has seen more than 500,000 of the stateless Muslim minority flee a crackdown on insurgents in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Believed to be the only journalists of Myanmar nationality to make the trip, they were on assignment from German GEO magazine when they were picked up in Cox’s Bazar in the first week of September.
Initial reports suggested authorities were pursuing espionage charges, which alarmed press advocates and friends of the well-known photographers. But the charges wound up as more or less immigration violations.
Like many foreign correspondents who went to cover the Rohingya crisis, they had traveled to Cox’s Bazar on tourist visas.
Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat are both noted photographers in Myanmar.
Minzayar has published in several international publications. One of his photos of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi ran in the prominent American magazine The New Yorker while he was detained in Dhaka.
They two were not immediately available for comment, but a photo of them leaving the Dhaka airport was posted on social media, along with GEO editor Christoph Kucklick, who tweeted “They’re free! @minzayar88 &@hkun_lat just left #bangladesh on a flight to BKK. I saw them off at #Dhaka airport - extremely relieved.”
Their lawyer said they were in good spirits. He did not elaborate on why the case was dropped, but media advocates and others had rallied to the defense of the pair. Despite the charges, the two had been treated well in Bangladesh, according to those familiar with the case.
The refugee crisis has strained ties between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has insisted that the Rohingya – who have been fleeing to Bangladesh for decades – be allowed to return home.
Myanmar has said it would abide by an older repatriation agreement, and Aung San Suu Kyi has unveiled a new committee to deal with the issue.
But many remain skeptical about the likelihood that a large-scale return is in the offing, at least in the short term.