By YE MON
Lawyers acting for two Reuters reporters jailed for breaching the Official Secrets Act submitted seven reasons why the pair should be acquitted at an appeal hearing at Yangon Region High Court on December 24.
The court has adjourned to consider the appeal, with a decision unlikely within the next two weeks, lawyers said.
The appeal hearing was the first since Ko Wa Lone, 32, and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were each sentenced in the Yangon Northern District Court to seven years’ imprisonment on September 3 over a case which continues to attract international attention.
The verdict was widely condemned by domestic and international journalism and free speech organisations, the United Nations, and countries such as Britain and the United States, which have called for the pair’s release.
One of the lawyers, U L Khun Ring Pan, told the appeal hearing that the district court had erred in convicting the pair because it had not properly considered whether the accusations against them amounted to a breach of the Official Secrets Act.
He said the pair had been victims of entrapment and the plaintiff had failed to produce evidence during their trial to show that they had violated the act.
The documents handed to the reporters by police immediately before their arrest on December 12 last year could not be regarded as secret because they had already been published, L Khun Ring Pan said.
He also said that in convicting the pair, the district court had failed to consider the testimony of Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, who had revealed that documents were planted on the reporters.
The conviction of the pair was “a failure of justice”, L Khun Ring Pan said.
The lawyer for the plaintiff told the high court that the appeal should be dismissed because the two reporters had collected secret documents with the intention of damaging Myanmar’ security and national interest.
Speaking outside the court after the appeal hearing, U Than Zaw Aung, who is also acting as a lawyer for both journalists, said he expected that it would be at least two weeks before a ruling was handed down.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo believed that the high court’s ruling would be based on justice and were hopeful of a positive outcome, he said.
Among those at the court was Wa Lone’s wife, Ma Pan Ei Mon, who told Frontier she intended to visit Insein Prison with Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Ma Chit Su, to inform their husbands about the appeal hearing.
“We hope for the best,” said Pan Ei Mon.
The arrest, trial and sentencing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo put freedom of speech in Myanmar in the spotlight as it makes a difficult transition to democracy. However, the international community has shown little interest in the plight of Moe Yan Naing, who is serving a one-year prison sentence under the Police Disciplinary Act for testifying as a prosecution witness about the entrapment of the two journalists. He is also being held in Insein Prison, according to his younger brother, Ko Ye Wint Naing.
Ye Wint Naing told Frontier on December 22 that his family did not know when Moe Yan Naing would be released.
Neither the family nor Moe Yan Naing has received any information about the case from the authorities, he added.
“We don’t know which court has sentenced him and we also don’t know exactly the sentence; we just heard that he has been sentenced to one year. He [Moe Yan Naing] also doesn’t know that,” said Ye Wint Naing.