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Police officer testifies in Reuters reporters’ trial

Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are escorted by police while arriving for a court hearing after lunch break in Yangon on 14 February 2018. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Two Burmese journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, appeared in a Yangon court on Wednesday to hear testimony from one of their arresting police officers, who was called as a prosecution witness.

This latest hearing came a day after literary rights group PEN America announced it was presenting the Reuters reporters with its Freedom to Write Award, which honours those who risk adversity in the cause of free expression.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo stand charged under the country’s draconian Official Secrets Act after allegedly being caught in possession of sensitive documents related to the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State. If convicted, they could face up to 14 years in prison.

In court today, Police Second Lieutenant Myo Ko Ko testified that he knew of no evidence to suggest that the Reuters reporters were working as spies or had sent the documents in question to rebel groups.

To most other questions posed by defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, the testifying police officer replied, “I don’t know,” even when asked if he was familiar with his police manual.

“He [Myo Ko Ko] responded to our questions by simply saying that he did not know the answers,” said Khin Maung Zaw. “He even claimed not to know the contents of his own police manual. All police officers know this manual. It makes no sense to say you are not familiar with your own rules and regulations.”

Detained journalist Wa Lone said he did not violate any media ethics, and believes that the report he and Kyaw Soe Oo were working on – concerning an alleged incident where 10 Rohingya men were slaughtered in cold blood by Burmese security forces in the village of Inn Din – would help to strengthen rule of law in the country.

However, the reporters’ lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said he believed the Rohingya report would not affect the trial.

The next hearing has been scheduled for 21 February, when two further witnesses will be called to testify.