YANGON – After six months of preliminary hearings, a Yangon court will decide next month whether two Reuters journalists arrested while covering the Rakhine conflict will be charged with violating the Official Secrets Act.
Yangon’s Northern District Court has heard from the plaintiff and 22 witnesses in the case against Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo.
On July 2, lawyers for both sides will make their arguments to the court regarding whether it should accept or reject charges against the journalists, judge U Ye Lwin said on Monday.
The last plaintiff witness, Police Major Tin Win Maung of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), testified Monday in the case’s 27th hearing since January 2018.
Monday’s cross-examination of the witness focused on the CID officer’s actions during the questioning of the journalists at the time of their arrests in December.
Maj. Tin Win Maung said he was not present when the reporters were questioned at the Aung Thabyay military camp in late December, which is in contrast to the journalists’ accounts, defense lawyer U Than Zaw Aung said.
Ko Wa Lone said his interrogators at the Aung Thabyay interrogation center included officials from the Bureau of Special Investigation, the military, the police special branch and the CID.
Defense lawyers pointed to numerous inconsistencies between the testimony provided by nearly two dozen witnesses and the accounts offered by the accused.
Defense lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw told The Irrawaddy he did not know whether the court would accept the charge, adding, “However, according to the information from our clients and the legal reviews, some of the testimony is hard to accept.”
The advocate said, “We will try to state specifically which testimony should not be accepted when we make our arguments before the court.”
In total, 22 out of an initial 25 witnesses testified; three were removed from the list of witnesses, including Police Sergeant Khin Maung Lin, who was fired by the police and whose whereabouts have been unknown since May.
U Than Zaw Aung said the court removed the sergeant from the witness list as he is still at large. He was initially believed to be hiding somewhere in Myeik, in southern Myanmar’s Tannithary Region, but this turned out not to be the case.
The two Reuters reporters were arrested on Dec. 12 and accused of breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
At the time of their arrest, the reporters were working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in Indin village in Maungdaw, Rakhine State. In April, the Myanmar military said seven soldiers had been sentenced to “10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area” for participating in the massacre.
The killings took place during the military’s crackdown following militant attacks on security outposts. The United Nations says the military crackdown sent nearly 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
During the six months of preliminary hearings, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing was fired for testifying that the two reporters had been framed. The officer was sentenced to one year in prison for violating the Police Disciplinary Act.
Ko Wa Lone on Monday told reporters covering the trial that, “We are very sorry to hear of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments about us.” He was referring to an interview with Japanese news outlet NHK World last week in which the State Counselor said the two Reuters reporters “were not arrested for covering the Rakhine Issues,” but “because they broke the Official Secret Act.”
Ko Wa Lone added, “We were not able to do our work due to being detained for six months. We totally believe justice will soon be served in our case.”
The other detained journalist, Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, expressed doubt as to whether the State Counselor had been given correct information.