A judge in Myanmar has delayed a verdict that had been expected today (Monday) against two Reuters journalists accused of illegally possessing official documents.
The pair say the police set them up, raising further questions about media freedom and the extent of democratic reforms in Myanmar.
The verdict was postponed to September 3, the same day that a UN-mandated fact-finding mission will release a report on the Rohingya crisis. Tomorrow the UN Security Council will hold a session on Myanmar in New York.
The presiding judge, Ye Win, could not attend because he had been sick since Friday, the authorities said. Delays of that kind are extremely common in Myanmar’s heavily politicised judicial system.
“We will not be afraid for whatever decision or situations we are in,” said defendant Wa Lone (pictured), 32, after the announcement. “It is because the truth is already on our side. We will not be frightened or scared because we didn’t do anything wrong.”
He and fellow defendant, Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a potential jail term of 14 years. They were arrested in December and have been denied bail.
The reporters say they were framed by police while reporting on what has been described as the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State late last year.
About 700,000 Rohingya crossed the border to Bangladesh after the latest in a series of crackdowns began on August 25, 2017.
Myanmar denies most of the allegations but has acknowledged the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys by the security services and Buddhist civilians in the village of Inn Din. The two Reuters reporters had been investigating the killings and, in a rare case, the government subsequently announced that seven soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour for the incident.
The reporters said they suffered harsh treatment during their initial interrogation. A police captain, called as a prosecution witness, testified that his commander had ordered that documents be planted on the pair to entrap them.
After making his explosive testimony, Capt Moe Yan Naing was sentenced to a year in jail for violating police regulations and his family was expelled from government housing.
During eight months of hearings, the reporters testified that two police officers they had not met before handed them papers inside a newspaper during a meeting at a Yangon restaurant on December 12. The pair said they were almost immediately forced into a car by plainclothes officers.
The authorities’ case is distinctly far-fetched.
Officers told the court that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were searched at a “routine” traffic stop by police who were “unaware” they were journalists and found them to be holding secret documents.
Wa Lone addresses the media before being taken back to prison. Picture credit: YouTube