Saturday, 17 November, 2018

Myanmar charges two Reuters journalists with obtaining state secrets

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone talks to media while being escorted by police as he leaves the court after his trial hearing in Yangon in early July Myanmar charges two Reuters journalists with obtaining state secrets
Steven Clarke | 11 July, 2018, 12:48

"They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth", Wa Lone told reporters as he and Kyaw Soe Oo were led out of the court and back to Yangon's Insein prison after a brief hearing in January. "We will not retreat, give up or be shaken by this". He said previously in responses to The Washington Post that the court would make its decision according to "the rule of law" and that the government has assured that the pair will be able to defend themselves in fair court hearings. The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din village massacre was what prompted Myanmar authorities to the arrest the journalists.

"These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way, and there are no facts of evidence to suggest that they've done anything wrong or broken any law." he said. He has declined to comment throughout the proceedings, saying Myanmar's courts are independent and the case would be conducted according to the law.

The U.S. Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, called the court's decision "deeply disappointing", describing it as "a setback for press freedom and the rule of law in Myanmar". Fellow journalist Kyaw Soe Oo follows behind him, also in handcuffs.

"They should be released and reunited with their families, friends, and colleagues", Reuters' president and editor in chief, Stephen Adler, said in a statement released Monday.

Zaw Htay, spokesman for the Myanmar government, did not respond to request for comment Monday.

The reporters' families, including Kyaw Soe Oo's two-year-old daughter and Wa Lone's pregnant wife, sat close to them in the courtroom packed with diplomats and journalists. The next hearing is set for July 16.

The judge said the court had filed charges against both reporters under section 3.1 (c) of the act to probe the prosecution's allegations that they collected and obtained secret documents pertaining to the security forces with the intention to harm national security.

Wa Lone has become known for his resilience and optimism during the course of the proceedings, photographed with a signature two thumbs up gesture flashed to cameras and reporters as he enters the Yangon court.

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Defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said Monday that the defense team would "hope for the best, but prepare for the worst".

Laetitia van den Assum, a member of the former Rakhine Advisory Commission chaired by Kofi Annan, told The Myanmar Times that the court's decision is "Myanmar's loss". About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since the crackdown began last August.

A police witness, Major Min Thant, says under cross-examination that information in the documents the reporters were holding in their hands at the time of their arrest had already been published in newspaper reports.

As of July, the United Nations said almost 1 million Rohingya reside in Cox's Bazar, a Bangladeshi border town now brimming with run-down, deeply vulnerable migrant camps.

The reporters have told relatives they were arrested nearly immediately after being handed some rolled up papers at a restaurant in northern Yangon by two policemen they had not met before.

Police Lance Corporal Naing Lin, the officer Moe Yan Naing said was ordered to entrap Wa Lone, tells the court he met the reporters, but denies giving them documents.

The court had dismissed the reporters' pleas and the pair could be sentenced to up to 14 years in jail under the Official Secrets Act.

Judge U Ye Lwin, who has been presiding over the trial, said the men have been charged for "getting, collecting and transferring secret documents regarding operations of the [Myanmar] police force".

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