Court: Reuters reporters to face Myanmar trial for 'breach' of secrecy act

11 July, 2018, 12:49 | Author: Myra Gill
  • Ko Kyaw Soe Oo is escorted by police from the courtroom today

A judge in Myanmar ruled on Monday the prosecution of two Reuters journalists charged with illegally possessing official information can go to a full trial. The two will now go to trial in what has been a closely-watched test of press freedoms in the country, drawing condemnation from foreign governments and press watchdogs.

GOP Senator John McCain, of Arizona, has called for the release of two journalists held in Myanmar, saying the charges against them are "outrageous and politically motivated". Reuters subsequently published an in-depth story on the massacre, which drew on the reporting of Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo. It could be months before a ruling is reached on their guilt and whether they will be sentenced, and for how long. Both the Reuters journalists have said that they plead not guilty since they were simply journalists, and were not intent on damaging government interests, just telling the truth.

All have called for the case to be dropped and the journalists to be returned to their families. They had been reporting on the violence in Rakhine State in regards to the violence against the Rohingya.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer calls seeking comment after the court ruling on Monday.

The defense lawyer said that he was "dissatisfied" with the court's decision but still hoped to win the case.

Stephen Adler, Reuters' president and editor-in chief, said in a statement: "We are deeply disappointed that the court declined to end this protracted and baseless proceeding against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo".

The court's decision draws worldwide criticism, with many countries, the United Nations, and press freedom groups calling for the reporters' release.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were invited to a restaurant by police officers in Yangon, where they were handed papers that allegedly linked Myanmar forces to the Rohingya killings.

At the time of their arrest in December, the reporters had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in western Myanmar's Rakhine State. They said the journalists were arrested in a police sting operation that was aimed at interfering with their reporting.

Detained Myanmar journalist Wa Lone (L) speaks to reporters as he is escorted by police from a courthouse following his ongoing pre-trial hearing in Yangon on July 9, 2018. After giving his surprise testimony, he was jailed for violating the Police Disciplinary Act and his family was forced to vacate their police housing unit.

"This is a black day for press freedom in Myanmar", Tirana Hassan of Amnesty International said Monday.

The EU said the court's decision "threatens fundamental freedoms, a free media and the public's right to information in Myanmar".

According to Lee, it is clear that the Myanmar government has made no progress or shown any real will to dismantle the system of discrimination in the country's laws, policies and practices, and to make northern Rakhine safe for the Rohingya refugees to return in near future.

"Although we are charged, we are not guilty", he said, in handcuffs, as officials ushered him into a police truck.

As the judge made his ruling, family and friends of the pair looked nearly resigned to the news, having watched their loved ones shuttling back and forth, handcuffed and flanked by police officers, for nearly seven months. Among the throng of people was Kyaw Soe Oo's young daughter who waited hopefully for her father to arrive.

Wa Lone has become known for his resilience and optimism during the course of the proceedings, photographed with a signature two thumbs up gesture flashed to cameras and reporters as he enters the Yangon court.



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