Myanmar: Court charges Reuters journalists with obtaining secret state documents

Myanmar court charges Reuters reporters under Official Secrets Act | Bangkok Post: news

"We will face the court and are not shaken by the decision to charge us with the secrets act", Wa Lone said after the hearing. They walked into the courtroom as they have during dozens of pre-trial hearings, with a handcuffed Wa Lone giving his now-famous thumbs up to the large crowd of family, press and supporters outside the court. Before he was dragged away by officers, Kyaw Soe Oo exchanged words with his daughter, a toddler, who had been waiting behind barbed wires before the court hearing started to catch a glimpse of her father. He said the defense would do its best at future hearings and expected to complete making its case in the next two months. The pair have already spent nearly seven months behind bars. At the time of their arrests, they had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in Rakhine state. The killings took place during a military crackdown that United Nations agencies say led to more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Reuters says the pair are innocent and were simply doing their job by reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims in September, and has urged the court to dismiss the case. The U.N. has said the military's campaign may amount to ethnic cleansing.

Zaw Htay, spokesman for the Myanmar government, did not respond to request for comment Monday.

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.

Moe Yan Naing is sentenced to a year in prison for violating Myanmar's Police Disciplinary Act by talking to Wa Lone.

Authorities have denied entrapping the reporters. Their confinement remains unlawful given "an initial period of incommunicado detention without access to lawyers, and other flagrant violations of the fair trial rights guaranteed in the Constitution, statutes and worldwide law".

In upcoming hearings the court will hear from six defense witnesses, including the two reporters, U Khin Maung Zaw said. He said four witnesses will be called for the reporters' defense, including their driver on the night of the arrest.

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Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International's director of crisis response, said: "This is a black day for press freedom in Myanmar". While media workers had been optimistic that Suu Kyi's civilian government, elected in 2015, would enact reforms that included greater freedoms for the press, many have now expressed frustration.

The decision follows a recent meeting between the foreign minister and Myanmar's Union Minister for the State Counsellor's Office Kyaw Tint Swe with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing.

"If [press freedom] was backsliding, that would mean there has been an advance".

The case has also attracted widespread criticism internationally.

"Naturally, I'm not satisfied.not happy", he told reporters when asked about the court's decision.

Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Wa Lone said he and Kyaw Soe Oo had committed no crime and would testify to their innocence in court. "The court's decision to proceed with this farcical, politically motivated case has deeply troubling and far-reaching implications for independent journalism in the country".

In a statement, Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said "we are deeply disappointed that the court declined to end this protracted and baseless proceeding against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo". "They should be released and reunited with their families, friends, and colleagues", he added. "Today's decision casts serious doubt on Myanmar's commitment to press freedom and the rule of law", the statement read.

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