Decision on trial for Reuters reporters will test Myanmar’s democracy
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of two Reuters journalists by the Yangon judge who will decide next week whether they will be tried on the trumped-up charges brought against them after they began investigating a Rohingya massacre.
After several months of preliminary hearings, Judge Ye Lwin will finally take the fateful decision on 9 July. Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone have languished in prison since the police lured them into a trap on 12 December, gave them supposedly classified documents and then arrested them.
They are accused under the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law dating back to 1923 that Myanmar’s military uses whenever they don’t want journalists to cover certain subjects. The two Reuters journalists had been investigating an army massacre of Rohingya civilians in Inn Din, a village near the Bangladeshi border in the north of Rakhine state.
After Reuters published its report on the massacre, a military court announced on 10 April that seven soldiers has been sentenced to ten years in prison for what was discreetly called “extra-judicial executions.”
A police captain, Moe Yan Naing, testified ten days later that the police had deliberately set a trap for the two journalists in order to bring trumped-up charges against them. The captain was himself then given a one-year jail sentence because, he said, it “stops other police officers from saying the truth.”
“It is high time to end to this travesty of justice,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The judicial investigation has been an appalling hypocrisy from the very outset. The arrest of the two journalists, the fabrication of evidence, the staging of their transfer to police custody and the pressure on witnesses during the preliminary hearing – nothing has stood up.”
Bastard added: “After so many legal inconsistencies, what credibility would Judge Ye Lwin have if he placed Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on trial? Keeping them in detention would mean there is absolutely no judicial independence in Myanmar. It would also mean the end of the rule of law and Myanmar’s transition to democracy.”
When US former diplomat Bill Richardson asked the head of Myanmar’s government, Aung San Suu Kyi, about the Reuters journalists earlier this year, she became so angry that he resigned from the panel that was advising the government on how to deal with the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Myanmar fell six places in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 137th out of 180 countries.