Judge sets date for verdict in trial of Reuters journalists

By YE MON | FRONTIER

YANGON — Lawyers presented final arguments on August 20 in the case brought against journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo under the Official Secrets Act. The judge in the Yangon Northern District Court announced he would deliver the verdict on August 27.

The defendants’ lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw told the court the prosecutor had failed to provide evidence that the two journalists, who work for the Reuters international news agency, are spies and that they violated the Official Secrets Act, a colonial era counter-espionage law.

Wa Lone, 32, and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in the northern outskirts of Yangon on December 12 for possessing allegedly confidential documents relating to security operations in Rakhine State and have been detained ever since. If convicted, they face up to 14 years in prison.

According to the journalists, they were arrested right after being handed rolled-up documents in a pre-arranged meeting with police sources, in what police whistle-blower Captain Moe Yan Naing told the court was a set-up ordered by a senior police commander. The police have denied the meeting took place and presented a version of events marked with inconsistencies.

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Wa Lone was hopeful for a fair verdict but said the prosecution had made groundless accusations, and that they don’t understand what a journalist is or how the media works.

“I believe the court will decide fairly, that we are not guilty, and I can return home to see my daughter,” he said.

Wa Lone’s first child with his wife Ma Pan Ei Mon, 36, was born on August 10 and given the name Thet Htar Angel.

Defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said he was also hopeful for a not-guilty verdict, but that they were also prepared for the opposite result.

The court proceedings since January have included testimony from 23 prosecution witnesses followed by four defence witnesses.

The journalists were arrested while investigating an army-led massacre of ten Rohingya Muslim men and boys in Inn Din village of northern Rakhine in September last year. The military has since admitted to the massacre and declared the sentencing of seven soldiers to ten years in prison by court martial.

The journalists told the court that, during their interrogation, police suggested they could negotiate their early release if Reuters buried the investigation. However, it went on to be published in February under the title “Massacre in Myanmar.”

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