Myanmar's top court hears Reuters reporters' appeal
Tuesday 26 March 2019
Myanmar's Supreme Court heard the appeal on Tuesday of two Reuters journalists imprisoned for breaking a colonial-era official secrets law.
Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo (photo) have spent more than 15 months in detention since they were arrested in December 2017 while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims involving Myanmar soldiers.
Law officer Ko Ko Maung, representing the government, said they had been found in possession of secret documents that could have harmed national security.
Outlining their grounds of appeal, the reporters’ lawyer Khin Maung Zaw cited lack of proof of a crime and evidence that they were set up by police. A policeman had told a lower court last year that officers had planted secret documents on the two reporters.
A district court judge found the two journalists guilty under the Official Secrets Act last September and sentenced them to seven years in prison. An earlier appeal in January was rejected.
Both remain separated from their wives and young daughters. The wife of 32-year-old Wa Lone gave birth to their first child last year while Wa Lone was behind bars. Kyaw Soe Oo celebrated his 29th birthday in jail this month.
The journalists were not present at Tuesday’s hearing, but their families had travelled to the capital Naypyitaw, about 370 km north of Yangon, where the men are imprisoned, to attend.
“We are expecting to reunite as a family as soon as possible,” Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, told reporters outside the Supreme Court compound.
The reporters’ convictions were heavily criticised by press freedom advocates and Western diplomats, putting additional pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who took power in 2016 amid a transition from military rule.
Suu Kyi said in the week after their conviction in September that the reporters’ case had nothing to do with press freedom as the men had been jailed for handling official secrets, not because they were journalists.
“Myanmar’s Supreme Court has the opportunity to correct the serious miscarriage of justice inflicted on Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for the last 15 months,” Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said in a statement.
“They are honest, admirable journalists who did not break the law, and they should be freed as a matter of urgency.”
Before their arrest the two reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.
The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to United Nations estimates.
Supreme Court Justice Soe Naing adjourned the case at the end of Tuesday’s hearing, without giving a date for a ruling. ■