Prosecution calls for “hostile witness” status in Reuters case

By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER

YANGON – A Yangon court today was asked to label Police Captain Moe Yan Naing a “hostile witness” after he testified last week that two detained Reuters journalists had been “set up” by police.

Lawyers acting for the prosecution of journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo filed the appeal, after Moe Yan Naing defied his superiors and contradicted official statements about the circumstances of the journalists’ arrest.

He said that Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko had given orders to entrap the journalists, who have been detained since December for the possession of confidential documents. They have been charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. 

Prosecutors argued in court today that Moe Yan Naing sought revenge on Tin Ko Ko and was afraid of being jailed. They claimed that his testimony at the court differed from an account he had given privately to police, defence lawyers told reporters outside the courtroom, after today’s hearing.

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Moe Yan Naing was one of two police officers arrested in December for allegedly giving documents to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

The Reuters journalists were invited to meet police officers at a restaurant in Yangon. The prosecution has argued that police arrested them shortly afterward and found the documents during a random search.

“We disagreed with the appeal in court,” lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw, who is acting for the defence, told reporters. “If Moe Yan Naing’s confession is seen as that of a hostile witness, it would not be in line with the law.”

The court will make a decision at the next hearing, which is scheduled for May 2.

The defence team on April 20 expressed concern for Moe Yan Naing’s safety as he remains in police custody and has not been able to contact his family.

The following day, his wife Daw Tu Tu said she had been evicted from their police accommodation. A police spokesperson told AFP that her expulsion was a “coincidence” and had no connection to her husband’s testimony.

Speaking at a press conference in Mandalay on April 22, Tu Tu said her husband had been betrayed, The Myanmar Times reported, adding that he had not received his salary for four months.

Commentators on social media quickly labelled Moe Yan Naing a hero for telling the truth, although others have questioned his motives.

At the time of their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating a massacre of 10 Muslim men at Inn Din village last September, in northern Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township. Shortly after their arrest, the Tatmadaw admitted to its role in the extrajudicial killings. 

On April 10, army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said that a military tribunal had sentenced seven soldiers to 10 years’ jail with hard labour for their involvement. 

A week later, the Myanmar National Television website briefly carried a report that a presidential amnesty had included the seven men, prompting international condemnation. The story was quickly taken down and presidential spokesperson U Zaw Htay told Frontier the information was incorrect.

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