No end in sight for jailed Reuters journalists
Six months after two Reuters journalists were arrested and charged with possession of classified documents, their trial is moving at a snail’s pace and they are not likely to be freed soon.
TUESDAY marked six months since journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of Reuters news agency were arrested on accusations of possession of classified documents, and there seems to be no end in sight to their imprisonment.
The duo, who were charged under the country’s Official Secrets Act, face up to 14 years in jail if convicted of the crime.
Twenty-five prosecution witnesses are expected to testify in their court trial, which is moving at a snail’s pace, according to observers.
Some witnesses have to testify many times to answer questions from both the prosecution and defence, and some have been absent.
One prosecution witness, Police Captain Tin Maung Win of the Criminal Investigation Division, took leave from court on Tuesday as he was out of town.
“It is kind of a waste of time, as he should request leave before the court date, so the court can change to other witnesses, but he left it until today. I suspect they will try to keep us in jail a long time,” said Kyaw Soe Oo.
During the hearing on Monday, the journalists said they were accused of being “spies” when they were interrogated by police after they were arrested on the outskirts of Yangon on December 12. They were not allowed to sleep for days during the interrogation period, they said.
Kyaw Soe Oo told reporters after the hearing that he was forced to kneel on the floor for three hours because he refused to give the address of the hotel where he last stayed and information about their other sources.
But another witness, Police Captain Myint Lwin, denied that the journalists were sent to a special interrogation facility or that they were detained at Northern Yangon Police headquarters until December 26.
“We looked for them at Northern Yangon Police headquarters after they disappeared but I’m sure they were not there,” said Pan Ei Mon, wife of Wa Lone.
The families of the journalists hope they will be released soon.
“I am close to giving birth and I want to be with my husband,” she said.
Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer of the journalists, described the continued detention of the two as a form of mental torture.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told a Japanese television network in a recent interview that the two journalists were arrested because they broke the law, not because of their work covering a story in strifetorn northern Rakhine State.
“They were arrested because they broke the Official Secrets Act. We cannot say whether they were guilty. That will be up to the judiciary. They were not arrested for covering the Rakhine issue,” she said in the interview.
Detained Myanmar journalist Wa Lone answers a reporter’s question after his trial in Insein township court in Yangon on Tuesday.