The Hanthawady U Win Tin Foundation has decided to withhold honors from detained Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and from Police Captain Moe Yan Naing. The two reporters stand accused of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act during their investigation of the Sept. 2017 massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village. The police officer is serving a sentence for providing the reporters with information about the massacre, at which he was present.
The foundation was established in 2012 by veteran journalist Win Tin to assist the families of political prisoners. Win Tin was a co-founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which currently holds a majority in Myanmar’s parliament, and a political prisoner for 19 years during military rule. He died in 2014, though his foundation continues to give cash prizes to honorees every three months and operates a clinic for former political prisoners in downtown Yangon.
On June 5, a foundation official told Myanmar Now that it had decided to honor the two reporters “because they pursued their jobs ‘without violating journalist ethics or betraying the country’” and Captain Moe Yan Naing because of the “exemplary courage and a love of truth” he displayed by exposing a high-level police plot to entrap Wa Lone.
However, when the foundation gave out a total of K1.7 million (US$1,270) to eight honorees at Yangon’s Royal Rose restaurant today, neither the reporters nor the police officer was among them.
“We had planned to honor them and submitted them for consideration,” said foundation official Kyaw Aung, who served as master of ceremonies at today’s event. “But when we held our meeting [on June 9] to decide who would receive an honor, the majority decided not to do so.”
He added: “We don’t have permission to discuss the reasons why. In the current situation, the committee made the decision to wait. There is another selection meeting in three months, in September. There will be another determination at that meeting.”
Monywa Aung Shin, the interim-director of the Hanthawady U Win Tin Foundation and information officer for the NLD, said: “It’s an ongoing case. It’s not that we are refusing to grant them the honor. We are still waiting for the case to conclude, and the committee made the decision to wait until the next meeting to make another decision. We have not abandoned them, and we have not forgotten about their case.”
When asked why a foundation official had claimed on June 5 that Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo, and Moe Yan Naing would receive awards, Monywa Aung Shin said: “It’s not an award. It’s support for the two Reuters journalists. It’s not a lot, but it’s financial support for their work. A representative talked to the press definitively about the honor before the committee had made a decision.”
Today marked the two reporters’ sixth month in prison as they undergo pre-trial hearings pending prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. At yesterday’s hearing, lawyers for the reporters revealed that police subjected Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to “mental and physical torture” in the days following their arrest on Dec. 12, including depriving them of sleep for three consecutive days.
Aside from the prospect of an honor from the Hanthawady U Win Tin Foundation, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have won a number of journalism awards while in detention, including, most recently, the 2017 James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism.
TOP PHOTO: Hanthawady U Win Tin Foundation interim-director and NLD information committee secretary Monywa Aung Shin speaks at the honor ceremony on June 12, 2018. Photo: Jacob Goldberg