No end in sight for jailed Reuters jour­nal­ists

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NAW BETTY HAN naw­bet­ty­han@mm­

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.

Photo: Aung Khant

De­tained Myan­mar journalist Wa Lone answers a re­porter’s ques­tion af­ter his trial in In­sein town­ship court in Yan­gon on Tues­day.

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