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Myanmar court postpones verdict for Reuters journalists

Published on: 9:42 pm - Monday | August 27, 2018

currentnews.com.bd

A Myanmar court postponed its ruling Monday on whether two Reuters journalists violated a state secrets law while reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims, delaying the decision for a week.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, have been detained in Myanmar’s infamous Insein prison since December in the case which has ignited a global outcry.

The two journalists had been investigating the September 2017 killings of
10 Rohingya Muslims in conflict-scarred Rakhine state.

They were invited to dinner with police in Yangon, handed some documents,
and then arrested as they left the meeting, accused of possessing classified
material on operations in the area.

They were charged with violating the colonial-era state secrets act which
carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, and the expected ruling had drawn a
crowd of diplomats, media and well-wishers to the court in northern Yangon.

But district judge Khin Maung Maung said in a brief hearing that the
presiding judge was ill and that the verdict would be announced on September 3.

Wa Lone told reporters as he left the courthouse that they were not afraid,
whatever the decision.

“We have the truth with us and we did not do anything wrong,” he said.

– Suu Kyi under fire –

The case has sparked fears of eroding press freedoms under civilian leader
Aung San Suu Kyi, whose international reputation has been shattered over the
treatment of the Rohingya.

Defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said the delay could be tied to global
developments on Myanmar.

A UN fact-finding mission on rights abuses in Myanmar is due to release a
report on Monday and the UN Security Council will discuss the Rohingya crisis
on Tuesday.

“If the verdict is today and it’s negative for the defence, it may be seen
as a negative approach to democracy,” he said. Reuters has robustly denied
the charges. The defence said that the supposedly secret documents had
already been published, and the prosecution case hit a hurdle when a police
witness said his superior had ordered his men to entrap the pair.

The journalists said after their arrest that they were hooded and deprived
of sleep in initial interrogations, which included questions about their work
on Rakhine.

The newswire launched a worldwide advocacy campaign that included
diplomats, celebrities and the legal assistance of prominent rights attorney
Amal Clooney.

But it was not enough to keep the court in the Buddhist-majority country
from pursuing the charges.

Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone were probing the massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Rakhine state’s Inn Din village a week after the military launched a sweeping crackdown on members of the stateless Muslim minority.

The United Nations and Washington have called the campaign “ethnic
cleansing”, after some 700,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine to Bangladesh, bringing with them testimonies of rape, arson and killings in the northern part of the state.

Myanmar rejects the charges but has admitted the killings investigated by
Reuters took place and sentenced seven soldiers for the crime.

Rights groups say security forces should be investigated for crimes against
humanity in Rakhine but so far only a handful of targeted sanctions have hit
figures in Myanmar’s armed forces.

(AFP)
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