TWO Reuters journalists are to remain in jail after a Yangon court on Wednesday rejected an appeal to have the case against them dropped.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are accused under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act for possessing secret government papers. The court has been hearing preliminary hearings since January to decide if they will be charged. If convicted, the charge carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
Judge Ye Lwin said that there was “a proper reason” for the accusations against the two reporters and therefore “they should not be released.”
“The culprits who committed the massacre were sentenced to 10 years in prison. But the ones who reported on it – us – are accused under a law that can get us imprisoned for 14 years”- @walone4 “Where is the truth? Where is the truth and justice? Where is democracy and freedom?” pic.twitter.com/PyAGiKIOaw
— Antoni Slodkowski (@slodek) April 11, 2018
The defence team were hoping for the case to be thrown out at today’s hearing, arguing that the testimony from witnesses called by the prosecution was insufficient to charge the pair. They also pointed to what they said were inconsistencies in witness testimony and procedural mistakes made by the authorities during the arrest and subsequent searches.
During previous hearings one of the police witnesses told the court he had burned his notes from the time of the arrests, while a civilian witness had the location where police say the arrests were made – a key point of contention during the proceedings – written on his hand.
Shouting “Happy Birthday Wa Lone” with lots of hope when he was walking into the courtroom. But the judge denied for dismissal. What a frustration!! Heart breaking to see tears from family members.
Photo: Birthday cake for Wa Lone from his friends pic.twitter.com/9yPJBY2xsw
— Aung Naing Soe (@AungNaingSoeAns) April 11, 2018
At the time of their arrest in December, the journalists had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya villagers by Burma’s military. In a rare admission of wrongdoing, the army said the soldiers in question had confessed to killing the men and burying them in a mass grave in the village of Inn Din. On Tuesday, seven of those soldiers were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour.
The United Nations estimates close to 700,000 Rohingya Muslim have fled across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh since August after militant attacks triggered a military crackdown that the United Nations has said is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The case of the two journalists has gained international attention, with human rights lawyer Amal Clooney expected to join the defence team.
Additional reporting by Reuters