Detained Reuters journalists say they were mistreated by police

By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER

YANGON — A Yangon court heard yesterday that detained Reuters journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were forced to kneel during an hours-long interrogation in the days following their arrest.

Police Captain Myint Lwin fielded questions about the treatment of the journalists when they were held incommunicado after their arrest on December 12.

The witness denied claims by the defence that the journalists were taken to an interrogation facility in Mingalardon Township, saying they were held at Taukkyan police station until December 26. He also denied they were forced to kneel for hours while answering questions.

Myint Lwin told the court he acted alone when ordering the journalists to disclose their phone PIN numbers, which he claimed was necessary to ascertain if their telephone numbers matched police records. Their phones were later searched.

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Reuters reported yesterday that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo said they had been denied sleep and were questioned every two hours for about three days after their arrests by different officers, who asked if they were “spies”. Wa Lone told the news agency it was “completely untrue” that they had remained in a regular police station.

Myint Lwin was the 23rd of 25 witnesses for the prosecution. Once all 25 have testified, the judge is expected to decide whether to proceed to a trial or dismiss the case.

The pair were arrested in Yangon on December 12 after receiving papers from two police officers. They have been charged under the colonial era Official Secrets Act for the possession of classified information and face a potential 14-year prison term. The defence maintains they were victims of entrapment.

At the time of their arrest, they were investigating the September killing of 10 Muslim men at Inn Din village in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township, during a brutal army response to attacks on police posts that led to around 700,000 people — mainly Muslims who identify as Rohingya— fleeing to Bangladesh.

Last week, the court heard that the “classified documents” included material about a high-level visit to Rakhine, which the journalists had received one month after state media published the information.

While the UN and several Western countries have called for the release of the reporters, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in an interview last week with Japan’s NHK World indicated that she was unsympathetic to their cause.

The state counsellor told the Japanese broadcasting service that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had violated the Official Secrets Act and “were not arrested for covering the Rakhine issue”. Court proceedings were “in accordance with due process” she said.

“It saddens me, hearing it,” Wa Lone told reporters at Insein Township court yesterday. “Maybe she has not been provided with enough information. This is definitely related to the Rakhine issue.”

Today the court is expected to hear from U Tin Win Maung, deputy superintendent at the Criminal Investigation Department. The final witness, Police Corporal Khin Maung Lin, was due to testify in May, but police said he had been fired and his whereabouts were unknown. Prosecutors said yesterday they had located him and that he would appear in court.

Defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung said his disappearance was concerning. “This is worrisome because he might be their hidden card to play at the end.”

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