Constitutional Law & Civil Rights

A test of the Judiciary and Press Freedom in Myanmar

Date: 24 August 2018; Type: Legal News; Source: Myanmar Times

After more than eight months and 36 hearings, the verdict will be out soon in the trial of two Reuters journalists accused of possession of classified government documents.

The Northern District Court of Yangon Region has set Monday for the final hearing in the trial of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and face up to 14 years in jail if convicted.

Observers say it will be a test of the country’s much-maligned justice system and press freedom in the country.

Police arrested the two reporters on December 12, 2017, shortly after their meeting with two police sources at a restaurant on the outskirts of Yangon.

In buttressing its case, the prosecution presented to the court the documents that police say were seized from the journalists, including the disposition of police and security forces in northern Rakhine State.

Other evidence presented by the prosecution was a phone number, allegedly found in Wa Lone’s notebook, for U Nyo Tun Aung, a leader of the armed ethnic group Arakan Army.

The prosecution said it proved that the journalists have contacts and connections with illegal groups.

The prosecutors presented 23 witnesses to prove its case.

The defence team presented only three witnesses and vigorously argued that the two journalists never violated the Official Secrets Act.

Defence lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw said nothing in the testimony of the 23 prosecution witnesses indicated that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo broke the law.

He specifically cited the testimony of former police Captain Moe Yan Naing, who told the court that the reporters were trapped into taking the documents.

U Khin Maung Zaw said the information found in the mobile phone of Wa Lone was not obtained personally but through social media.

The defence team urged the judge to dismiss the case.

While the defendants, their families, lawyers, friends, and colleagues hope for a favourable ruling on Monday, they are also worried.

“We are hoping for the best. I believe that these two young journalists possess good character and were just doing their jobs,” U Khin Maung Zaw said.

Kyaw Soe Oo told reporters after the court hearing on Monday that he hopes the decision of the court would uphold press freedom in the country.

“We did not violate any journalistic ethics, nor did we try to damage the interests of Myanmar.  I believe the court will let us go. I believe that I will be able to meet my daughter soon,” Wa Lone said.

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