Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

Myanmar court rules Reuters reporters can face full trial

Myanmar court charges Reuters reporters under Official Secrets Act | Bangkok Post: news Myanmar charges Reuters reporters under Official Secrets Act
Jeannette Daniel | 11 July, 2018, 12:46

Yangon district judge Ye Lwin charged reporters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, with breaching the colonial-era Official Secret Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, according to Reuters. Handcuffed, being led to a police auto, he added, "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. Both the Reuters journalists have said that they plead not guilty since they were simply journalists, and were not intent on damaging government interests, just telling the truth.

"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".

Sean Bain, a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists in Yangon said the decision "raises real concerns about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and prosecution when confronted with politically sensitive cases".

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". He did not answer calls seeking comment after the court ruling on Monday.

Reuters president and editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler said the news organization was "deeply disappointed" with the ruling and called the case against the reporters "baseless". Afterwards, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo confirm details of their treatment, saying they were questioned every two hours by different officers for about three days.

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.

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.

Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo is escorted by police while leaving Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar July 9, 2018.

More news: France beat Belgium to reach World Cup 2018 final

The two journalists were in Myanmar reporting on a massacre of members of the country's Rohingya Muslim minority.

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

"Naturally, I'm not satisfied.not happy", he told reporters when asked about the court's decision. "We will struggle ... and in the end we will have a happy ending".

The reporters say they were entrapped by police - a version of events seemingly backed up in court by a whistleblowing cop who testified that officers were ordered to set up the reporters. He said documents they had in their hands when they were arrested detailed the movements of security forces, while further documents found on their mobile phones ranged from confidential to top secret.

Army operations in August 2017 forced more than 700,000 Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar, to flee to Bangladesh. 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.

The reporters contended they were framed by police, a claim that was supported by testimony from a whistleblower in the police department, Moe Yan Naing.

In 2014, five reporters from the Unity Journal were charged under Section 3 [1] [a] of the Official Secrets Act and eventually sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

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