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Credibility gap widens for prosecution with conflicting testimony in Reuters trial

Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo talks to reporters after a court hearing in Yangon on 6 February 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

The testimonies of two witnesses involved in the controversial detention of a pair of Reuters journalists may have further dented the prosecution’s case on Wednesday as contradictions arose between their accounting of the circumstances surrounding the young men’s arrest.

At today’s hearing, witness for the prosecution Police Corporal Kyaw Lwin’s telling of events on 12 December, when the defendants were taken into custody on the outskirts of Yangon, aligned with police officials who have previously taken the stand.

But hundred-household head Win Lwin Oo, Wednesday’s other prosecution witness, gave a different account of where the defendants were arrested, saying they were apprehended in front of the Sin Gyi beer station. Previous witnesses for the prosecution, including Kyaw Lwin, have told the court that the two reporters were arrested at a checkpoint at the junction of No. 3 Road and Nilar Road, in Yangon’s Mingalardon Township.

The defendants — Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27 — have consistently said they were detained in front of Saung Yeik Mon restaurant, which is situated beside the Sin Gyi beer station.

The two journalists were arrested by Burmese authorities on the evening of 12 December, allegedly in possession of sensitive government documents, which could see pair imprisoned for up to 14 years under Burma’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Police witnesses in the case have previously been accused of providing false or misleading testimony in the high-profile case, which has drawn international attention and calls for the defendants’ release.

In another departure from the prosecution’s narrative heretofore, Win Lwin Oo on Wednesday told the court that the defendants signed documents at the Htauk-Kyant police station affirming a police inventory of items in their possession at the time of their arrest. Prior witnesses for the prosecution have said the documents were signed at the checkpoint where the arrest is said to have occurred.

Speaking to DVB, the defendants’ lawyer Khin Maung Zaw highlighted the differing testimonies between police officials and Win Lwin Oo, saying it would have a positive impact on his clients’ prospects for an acquittal.

Wednesday’s hearing also saw the defence attempt to submit into evidence the last story reported by Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, a quadruple-bylined investigative exposé on the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims at the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine State. The defendants’ reporting of the story is thought to have led to their arrest.

Presiding Judge Ye Lwin, however, said the trial was not yet at an appropriate stage to accept the submission. The magistrate said he would await the testimony of higher-level witnesses such as a “technical expert” from the Criminal Investigation Department, due to appear before the court in hearings to come, before ruling on whether to accept the Reuters article as an exhibit in the case.

“We will continue to pursue the matter of this exhibit when the expert comes to the court,” Khin Maung Zaw said.

The trial’s next hearing has been scheduled for 28 February, when two additional witnesses are due to testify.

Wa Lone told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing: “It [the case] is a waste of my time. I should be in the newsroom.”