YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The judge in the trial of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar rejected on Wednesday a prosecution request to throw out the testimony of a police whistleblower who had told the court that the reporters, facing charges of possessing state secrets, had been set up by the authorities.
Police Capt. Moe Yan Naing had contradicted other prosecution witnesses by declaring last month that his superior arranged for two policemen to meet reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and give them documents described as “important secret papers” in order to arrest them for violating the law. The reporters were covering a brutal counterinsurgency operation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that drove 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
The prosecution had appealed for Moe Yan Naing to be declared a hostile witness, based on its claim that his courtroom testimony conflicted with what he had earlier told police investigators. The judge said Wednesday that he discerned no difference in the accounts given by the police captain.
The court said Moe Yan Naing will testify again next week. He has been detained since the reporters’ arrest on Dec. 12, apparently for earlier giving one of them an interview, and last week was punished with a prison sentence for violating the Police Disciplinary Act. The day after he testified, his wife and daughter were ordered to move out of their police housing unit in the capital, Naypyitaw.
The two reporters were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, a law dating from British colonial times, and if convicted, could receive up to 14 years in prison. They apparently were targeted by the authorities because of their work on the Rakhine crisis, a very sensitive subject that has brought the government international criticism.
The two journalists had worked on an investigation of the killing of 10 Rohingya villagers in Inn Din village, for which seven soldiers were recently sentenced to up to 10 years in prison with hard labor.
Rights groups, journalist associations and several Western governments have called for the reporters’ release, saying the case against them is a violation of freedom of the press.
“I am very happy about this because the unfair treatment toward us and the truth will be revealed soon,” Wa Lone told journalists after Wednesday’s hearing, referring to the court’s ruling on Moe Yan Naing.
Defense lawyers also welcomed the ruling.
“We already have hope for this case,” said Khin Maung Zaw. “Now we are more hopeful.”
He described the judge’s decision as right and fair.
“On this day and this occasion, the court has proved itself a court of justice,” he said.
Wa Lone, leaving the courtroom in handcuffs along with his colleague Kyaw Soe Oo to be returned to Insein Prison, noted that Thursday celebrates the concept of a free press.
“World Press Freedom Day, tomorrow, will be really meaningful for us because we noticed how much press freedom is meaningful as we pass day by day in the prison,” he told reporters. “We will be celebrating World Press Freedom Day from prison.”