Myanmar judge rejects motion to free Reuters reporters, despite flawed case

Reuters reporter Wa Lone speaks to reporters from the back of a police truck following a Jan. 23, 2018, hearing in Yangon. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

A Myanmar judge today rejected a request to dismiss the case against Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are on trial for having allegedly possessed secret government documents during their investigation of the Inn Din massacre in September.

Preliminary hearings in the two reporters’ case have been going on since January, a month after they were mysteriously arrested. If convicted under the Official Secrets Act, they may face up to 14 years in prison.

In his decision to uphold the charges today, Judge Ye Lwin said the two reporters were being held for “a proper reason” and “should not be released.”

In a statement, Reuters president and editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler said: “We are deeply disappointed with the court’s decision.”

“We believe that there are solid grounds for the court to dismiss this matter and to release our journalists,” he went on. “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were reporting on issues in Myanmar in an independent and impartial way. They have not violated any laws in the course of their newsgathering and were simply doing their jobs. We will continue to do all we can to secure their release.”

For the past two weeks, the reporters’ lawyers have argued to the judge that the testimony presented by the prosecution’s witnesses has been too flimsy to uphold the charges. They also pointed out inconsistencies in the witnesses’ testimonies and procedural violations made by police during the reporters’ arrest.

For instance, one police witness said he burned his notes from the time of the arrest. One civilian witness had the name of the location where police say they arrested the reporters written on his hand, while the defendants say they were arrested elsewhere.

Furthermore, the defense team has argued that the documents in the reporters’ possession –  which the prosecution says were being used to harm the security of the country – were already in the public domain.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on Dec. 12 while investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya men in the northern Rakhine State village of Inn Din on Sept. 2, 2017. The Myanmar army announced today that seven soldiers have been sentenced to 10 years each with hard labor for their roles in the massacre.

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