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News > World

Myanmar Judge Set To Announce Verdict In Reporters Case

  • Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo is escorted by police after a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar, August 20, 2018.

    Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo is escorted by police after a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar, August 20, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 August 2018

The Myanmar judge hearing the case against two Reuters reporters indicted for breaching national security will make his verdict known next Monday. 

The judge hearing the trial against two detained Myanmar reporters working for Reuters said on Monday he’ll announce a verdict in one week.

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The two journalists, Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are accused of breaching national security for obtaining secret state documents. The two were formally charged in July with violating the colonial-era law, Official Secrets Act, which protects the state against any person who obtains any government or military documents, records or information, "which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy."

At the time of their arrest last December, Lone, and Oo were investigating government-led killings and crackdowns against Rohingya Muslims in the Inn Din village during August 2017. If convicted they may face up to 14 years in prison.

The case has attracted international attention and outcry demanding that the Myanmar government, plaintiff in the case, drop all charges against the two investigative reporters saying the allegations violate international human rights and press freedom accords.

The judge set the August 27 date to after hearing closing arguments on Monday from both sides. The defense lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, says police planted documents on his clients that prosecutors now say contained information that, if revealed, could threaten national security. Zaw said at the hearing this was a tactic to upend their research into last summer's massacres.

"The duty of the reporter is to reveal the truth," said the lead defense lawyer. "Some people may not be okay with that truth."

Zaw reiterated that two police officers unexpectedly handed the journalist documents in a rolled-up newspaper at a Yangon restaurant just prior to the arrest of Lone and Oo. Police captain, Moe Yan Naing, testified during the trial that a superior officer instructed his subordinates to "trap" the reporters by giving them the documents.

During Monday’s court hearing Zaw said the prosecution hadn’t established that the documents given to the reporters had information that threatened state security.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating the murders of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in Inn Din, Rakhine state. The killings occurred amidst while the Myanmar government directed its military to rape and pillage the region, forcing approximately 700,000 Muslim Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to the U.N.

Lead state prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung said the journalists "intended to harm" the country. Aung claimed that the two reporters could have exposed the documents to extremist groups, which could have caused harm to the state. He added that the pair were working for the benefit of Reuters rather than for the national interest.

"Reuters is a foreign news agency that pays its reporters in dollars. It was found from the reporters that they sent their news to Reuters and their own evidence shows that Reuters sells news for money," said the state prosecutor.

Zaw said it was obvious Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were reporters and the court had heard no testimony to suggest they were spies.

"The government has not designated Reuters an enemy of the nation," he added.

The government spokesperson could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Reuters said in a statement: "The evidence before the court is clear: Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are two honest reporters who did not commit a crime. Imprisoning them for even one more day would be unlawful retribution for their truthful and important journalism."

Speaking to reporters, Wa Lone said he hoped the court would rule in their favor.

"We firmly believe that the court will make a fair decision and will free us," Lone said outside the courtroom.

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