Myanmar court charges Reuters reporters under Official Secrets Act

Elias Hubbard
July 11, 2018

But Judge Ye Lwin decided the prosecution had shown enough proof that the men were "collecting evidence" from state officials to allow the case to proceed to trial. A motion for charges to be dismissed on this basis, submitted by defence lawyers, was effectively rejected by the decision on Monday.

The prosecution's case has come under considerable scrutiny after a witness called on behalf of the prosecution, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, told the court in April that officers had been ordered by their superiors to "entrap" Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have pleaded not guilty. "The court did not decide we are guilty", he said.

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone speaks to the media while leaving Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar, on July 9.

During their investigative work, the two were invited to the home of a police official where they were arrested under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. If the police and the Tatmadaw (military) broke the law, journalists must undertake investigations.

Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Wa Lone said he and Kyaw Soe Oo had committed no crime and would testify to their innocence in court. "Independent journalism and the right to freedom of expression must be protected, starting with the immediate and unconditional release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo".

"Naturally, I'm not satisfied. not happy", Khin Maung Zaw told reporters after Monday's decision, according to the wire service.

"The court announced that the journalists were charged under the secrets act as they tried to take secret documents with a objective that is contrary to the interests of the government. They should be released and reunited with their families, friends, and colleagues", he added.

Jorge Silva / Reuters Pan Ei Mon and Chit Su, wives of detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, comfort each other after a court hearing in February. He believed that all journalists and professionals in the media would be anxious about the court's decision.

Earlier this month, defense lawyers said the journalists were arrested in a sting operation by the police that was aimed at interfering with their reporting.

For Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International's director of crisis response, "This is a black day for press freedom in Myanmar".

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay has declined to comment throughout the proceedings, saying Myanmar's courts are independent and the case would be conducted according to the law.

However, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee on Sunday in Dhaka said the repatriation talks are "extremely premature" as the cruelty is being meted out to the people in the Rakhine State.

"We have the right to a defence".

The charging decision means they will now be brought to trial, dragging out the case for several more weeks.

The pair has been in pretrial detention since their arrests on December 12.

"When the facts of the case and the testimony in open court strongly indicate that there is no case to answer and that there are political factors at play, questions arise about the judiciary".

The minister will "go soon" to Myanmar to see the progress of the repatriation process including housing facilities, movement as well as livelihood, Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque said on Tuesday.

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".

The Danish embassy stated that it is "extremely disappointing" for an NLD-led government, "on the basis of ancient legislation created by the British colonial government in 1923, to criminalise the sharing of nearly any kind of information held by the government".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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