YANGON — Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, one of two Reuters journalists accused of obtaining state secrets in Myanmar, told a court on Monday that the information in documents police say were found on his mobile phone was already public.
The 28-year-old reporter said he did not know how the documents, previously submitted to the court in Yangon by the prosecution during pre-trial hearings, had got on to his phone.
Ko Kyaw Soe Oo and his Reuters colleague Ko Wa Lone, 32, are facing up to 14 years in prison for allegedly violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges and have told the court how they were “trapped” by police officials who planted documents on them.
Referring to what he said were “top secret” documents found on his phone and in his possession, lead prosecutor U Kyaw Min Aung accused Ko Kyaw Soe Oo during cross-examination of having “a habit of collecting those documents…to write news and send to foreign news agency Reuters.”
In response, Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, sitting in the witness box facing the judge, said: “I didn’t collect those documents voluntarily.”
At the time of their arrest in December, the journalists had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The killings took place during an army crackdown that United Nations agencies say sent nearly 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
The trial has attracted global attention and has come to be seen as a test of press freedom and reforms in the fledgling democracy.
Defense lawyers also called as a witness on Monday a driver for Reuters, U Myo Thant Tun, who had dropped the reporters off for a meeting on the evening they were arrested.
U Myo Thant Tun said the pair was carrying “nothing but their hand phones” when they entered a restaurant where they met police officials who handed them a set of papers shortly before they were detained.
Ko Kyaw Soe Oo and Ko Wa Lone have testified that police Lance Corporal Naing Lin and another officer handed them documents during their meeting at the north Yangon restaurant, but that they had no time to look at them before being arrested as they left.
Police Captain Moe Yan Naing has also testified that a superior officer had instructed his subordinates, including Lance Cpl. Naing Lin, to “trap” the reporters. Lance Cpl. Naing Lin has told the court he met the reporters, but denied giving them anything.
Myanmar government spokesman U Zaw Htay has mostly declined to comment throughout the proceedings, saying Myanmar’s courts are independent. He did not answer calls seeking comment on Monday.
In their testimony, the journalists have described how they were handcuffed, hooded, deprived of sleep and forced to kneel for hours while being questioned by interrogators who focused on their reporting of the massacre of Rohingya Muslims rather than the documents they are accused of obtaining.
Judge Ye Lwin adjourned the trial until next week, when the defense is expected to call character witnesses.