Reuters Journalists Charged in Myanmar

Myanmar court charges Reuters reporters under Official Secrets Act | Bangkok Post: news

"The ongoing criminal proceedings against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo underscore the Myanmar government's wide-ranging efforts to obstruct reporting on the Rakhine state crisis and to whitewash human rights violations by authorities", he said.

Myanmar's military says it has discovered a mass grave in the village of Inn Din, in western Rakhine state.

Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in December and accused of possessing leaked sensitive material linked to security operations in crisis-hit Rakhine state.

Embassies in Yangon and foreign dignitaries have expressed disappointment with the court and continued to call for the immediate release of the two reporters. Their families say the pair told them they were arrested nearly immediately after being handed documents by the policemen they met for the first time the night of their arrest.

During pre-trial hearings the prosecution argued the reporters tried to access "secret papers" about security forces and therefore deserved punishment.

The journalists say they were then nearly immediately arrested by police, who held them incommunicado for two weeks and accused them of "illegally obtaining" confidential documents. At the time, there were many unconfirmed reports that they had been handed incriminating documents at the official's house, and then immediately arrested right after.

The journalists were arrested while reporting on the situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled following a military campaign against the Rohingya minority community.

Yet the arrest failed to quash their story, which Reuters eventually published as a special report in February.

But Myanmar has been at pains to say Inn Din was an isolated incident and not part of a wider campaign of ethnic cleansing directed against the Muslim Rohingya, as the United Nations and USA have alleged.

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Ko Wa Lone, one of the detained Reuters reporters, talks to the media after the pair were charged by Yangon's Northern District Court on Monday.

Prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney joins the legal team representing the two Reuters reporters.

Stephen Adler, the editor in chief and president of Reuters, said, "These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way, and there are no facts or evidence to suggest that they've done anything wrong or broken any law".

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. After his testimony, Moe Yan Naing was sentenced to a year in prison for breaking police protocol, and his family were removed from government housing in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.

A senior police officer denies during cross-examination by defence lawyers that the reporters were subjected to sleep deprivation and asked if they were "spies" during interrogations.

The judge made a decision to proceed to trial despite strong evidence for dismissal - witness accounts pointing to entrapment, indications of police misconduct in the investigation, and prosecution witnesses with contradicting testimonies.

"Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo deserve praise not persecution, and yet they face longer sentences than the soldiers who committed the crimes they were reporting", said Matthew Bugher, the group's Asia representative. "Today's decision casts serious doubt on Myanmar's commitment to press freedom and the rule of law".

They are charged with violating Section 3 [1] [c] of the colonial-era law, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have pleaded not guilty.

The case was adjourned until July 16.

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