2 Reuters journalists arrested in Myanmar for allegedly possessing secret papers
They face up to 14 years in prison
YANGON, MYANMAR – A court in Myanmar on Monday accused two imprisoned Reuters journalists of obtaining secret government documents, bringing the landmark press freedom case to trial after six months of preliminary hearings.
Wa Lon, 32, and Zhuo Wu, 28, are suspected of being accused of violating Colonial-era Official Secrets Law, which punishes up to 14 years in prison, Yangon District Judge Ye Lwin..
Both journalists pleaded not guilty, telling the judge that they “followed the standards of journalistic ethics.” Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Wa Long said that he and Jo So Woo did not commit any crimes and would insist on their innocence in court..
“We will stand trial,” he said. “We will not retreat, we will not surrender and we will be unshakable.”.
Chief Prosecutor Zhuo Min Aung left the courthouse, leaving no room for reporters to ask him questions.
The attention of the whole world
The journalists’ case has attracted the attention of the whole world. Some Western diplomats and human rights groups see it as a test of Myanmar’s progress towards democracy under the administration of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in a country where the military continues to wield significant influence..
Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said the news agency was “deeply disappointed” by the court ruling and called the case against journalists “unfounded”.
“These Reuters journalists did their job independently and impartially, and there is no fact or evidence to indicate that they did anything wrong or broke the law,” he said. “Today’s decision raises serious doubts about Myanmar’s commitment to press freedom and the rule of law.”.
Myanmar government spokesman Zo Tay declined to comment on the trial, saying Myanmar’s courts are independent and the case will be dealt with in accordance with the law. He did not return calls asking for comment after Monday’s court ruling..
Without losing hope
In his ruling, the judge noted that the court is bringing charges against both journalists under section 3.1 (c) of the law to verify the prosecution’s allegations that they collected and obtained classified documents concerning the security forces with intent to harm national security. Case consideration postponed until July 16.
The case will move into a trial phase, during which the prosecution will call witnesses, after which the court will issue its verdict, legal scholars say..
Defense attorney Kin Mo Zo said both journalists will be summoned to testify at the next hearing.
“Naturally, I am not satisfied, not satisfied,” he told reporters, commenting on the court’s decision. – But I do not lose hope. We will fight, and in the end we will have a happy ending. “.
Agent Injection Operation
Earlier this month, defense lawyers asked a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that prosecutors did not provide sufficient evidence to support the charges. According to them, the journalists were arrested as a result of an operation with the introduction of an agent, which was carried out to interfere with their work..
At the same hearing on July 2, Zhuo Min Aung called on the judge to press charges against the journalists. He said that the documents they had in their hands at the time of their arrest described in detail the movements of the security forces, while other documents found on their mobile phones were classified as “confidential” to “top secret”..
During their arrest in December, journalists were investigating the killing of ten Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. The killings took place during military crackdowns that, according to UN agencies, led more than 750,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh..
Reporters told their relatives that they were arrested almost immediately after two police officers, whom they had not met before, handed them some rolled papers in a restaurant in Yangon..
In April, Police Captain Mo Yang Ning testified that a senior officer ordered his subordinates to slip secret documents on Wa Lon to lure the journalist into a “trap.”.
After testifying in court, Mo Yan Ning was sentenced to one year in prison for violating the police discipline, which resulted in contacts with Wa Lon. The policeman’s family was evicted from their service housing. The police argue that the verdict and eviction are not related to his testimony.
Writers, human rights defenders and activists around the world are holding rallies in support of imprisoned journalists. UN and some Western countries call for their release.
“We are extremely disappointed with the court’s decision to indict them,” said Dorte Hortsen, deputy head of the Danish diplomatic mission in Myanmar..
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