Two Reuters reporters facing charges under Burma’s Official Secrets Act appeared in court again on Wednesday, with the prosecution putting two civilian witnesses on the stand; the owner of a restaurant near the scene of their detention and a hundred-household head who was involved in arresting the journalists.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained on 12 December in Yangon, allegedly in possession of sensitive government documents. The Reuters duo could be imprisoned for up to 14 years under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
At Wednesday’s hearing, lawyer for the defendants Than Zaw Aung raised questions with the hundred-household head, Kyaw Shein, regarding the attire worn by police officers on the night of the Reuters reporters’ arrest. According to Kyaw Shein, some among the arresting party were plainclothes police officers.
Kyaw Shein told the court that he had observed 10 policemen involved in the detention who were not in uniform. At the hearing, he also said he had seen Police Sergeant Naing Lin at the Saung Yeik Mon restaurant in Yangon’s Mingalardon Township on the night of 12 December.
Khin Maung Zaw, another member of the defence team, subsequently told DVB that his clients had linked Naing Lin to the night of their arrest, as a police officer who met with them at Saung Yeik Mon and turned over the documents at the heart of the ongoing trial.
Khin Maung Zaw said the two detained journalists had told their legal counsel that they did not know two police officers who were reportedly detained in connection with the case, and were not aware of what their alleged ties to the case might be.
According to a statement from the Ministry of Information in December, the two police officers — Deputy Police Major Moe Yan Naing and Police Sergeant Khin Maung Lin — were also detained and would likewise be charged under the Official Secrets Act.
“Wa Lone told me that Police Sergeant Naing Lin gave them the documents. He doesn’t know about the two police officers who were announced by the government. We got good information today because the prosecution’s witness has testified to it,” said Khin Maung Zaw.
The next hearing for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo has been scheduled for 7 March, when another two witnesses are expected to testify.
Speaking outside the Northern District courthouse following Wednesday’s hearing, Wa Lone referred to what many believe was the reason the Reuters journalists were detained — for their reporting on conflict-stricken Rakhine State — in an appeal for press freedom.
“What we mainly believe is that the government needs to get the right information,” he told reporters. “That’s why I believe that media has to be able to travel, to cover and to write news freely, not only about the Rakhine situation but in all issues.”
At the time of their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were working on an investigative exposé, published earlier this month, on the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims at the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine State.