A Day of Disgrace for Myanmar’s Already Tarnished Police Force

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 21 April 2018

What a disgrace for the Myanmar Police Department! On Friday, a court was told that two journalists arrested in December had been targeted in a police plan to entrap them by offering them “secret documents”.

Police Brigadier-General Tin Ko Ko allegedly threatened police officials with extrajudicial imprisonment if they did not arrest Reuters reporter Wa Lone after offering him purported secret officials documents, saying: “If you don’t get Wa Lone, you will go to jail.”

The assertion was made as part of court testimony given by Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, a prosecution witness in the case against the reporters, on Friday morning.

The police captain was himself detained, along with Police Lance-Corporal Khin Maung Lin, on Dec. 12 — the same day Wa Lone and his colleague Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested —for illegally interacting with the Reuters reporters the previous month.

The reporters were arrested on the evening of Dec. 12 soon after receiving purported secret official documents from Police Lance-Corporal Naing Lin. Brig-Gen Tin Ko Ko gave the junior officer “secret documents from Battalion 8” with which to carry out his order to secure the journalists’ arrests.

Since January, the court has been holding hearings to decide if the detained journalists are to be charged under the Official Secrets Act, legislation enacted during the British colonial era. The journalists were investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township during an Army clearance operation. The Army operation was launched after a militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, attacked police outposts in the area in August last year. Seven soldiers were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for the killings of the Rohingyas, according to the military.

In fact, many people, including journalists, have suspected from the start that the two reporters were set up by authorities. Acting as a whistleblower, Capt Moe Yan Naing has now confirmed these suspicions.

The police captain told the court that Brig-Gen Tin Ko Ko’s actions were “unethical and damaged the integrity of the country on the international stage.” During a break in the hearing, he told reporters, “I am revealing the truth because police of any rank have their own integrity. It is true that [the Reuters reporters] were set up.”

Such a revelation of the truth by a police officer is quite rare in this country. Many will see the police captain’s actions as praiseworthy. But he has taken this step at great personal risk; something he clearly understands, as he appeared nervous when talking to reporters yesterday. The police captain could face unexpected consequences for his revelations against his supervisor, and perhaps even from the Home Affairs Ministry, which supervises the Police Department.

Soon after the arrests in December, the Home Affairs Ministry said it would take action against Capt Moe Yan Naing and LC Khin Maung Lin for their roles in passing government documents to the journalists.

Now we will have to wait and see how the ministry reacts to the revelations that the whole affair was a plot hatched by Brig-Gen Tin Ko Ko, a senior officer. Many wonder if the brigadier-general acted alone. Did some big fish order him to act?

All security forces in Myanmar retain infamous reputations—the Police Department is not exceptional at all. This set-up of two journalists has brought more disgrace upon an institution that is already tarnished in the public’s eyes.

Handling this issue is the responsibility of Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant-General Kyaw Swe, who is an appointee of the military commander-in-chief.

Myanmar President U Win Myint has an important role to play here. In his inaugural speech on March 30, he said, “I wish to urge the media sector, which serves as the ears and eyes of the public, to understand the seriousness of their duties and to hold in high regard the public sector that they serve.”

Given the importance he appears to ascribe to the role of the media in society, President U Win Myint must not neglect this case. The country’s integrity will be further damaged if unethical or crooked officials continue to pursue this case, which violates any reasonable standard of ethics, accountability and responsibility.