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Reuters duo back in court; search of home is one subject of inquiry

Kyaw Soe Oo, in white shirt and one of two Reuters journalists on trial for allegedly violating Burma's Official Secrets Act, is led to court by police officers on Wednesday. (Photo: DVB)

As the high-profile trial of two Reuters journalists continued on Wednesday, questioning turned to the search-and-seizure operation carried out by authorities on one of the defendants’ homes in the aftermath of his arrest.

Police-Major Soe Aung was one of two witnesses called to testify on Wednesday, as one of the officers involved in the search on Reuters reporter Wa Lone’s family home in Yangon’s Mayangone Township.

He told the court in Mingalardon Township that the search of the house was carried out in accordance with the law, and that a warrant had been obtained prior to it. He was responding to cross-examination from one of the defendants’ lawyers, Than Zaw Aung.

However, speaking to DVB after Wednesday’s hearing, Wa Lone’s father Tin Myint said the police officers and ward administrator who came to the defendant’s residence on 13 December did not show him any search warrant.

“They didn’t show it to me and I didn’t ask them about the search warrant. They came to the house as a group and searched, and seized a laptop, hard-disk drive and a notebook,” said Tin Myint.

Wa Lone and his Reuters colleague Kyaw Soe Oo were detained on 12 December in Yangon, allegedly in possession of sensitive government documents. The two could be imprisoned for up to 14 years under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

The other witness to testify on Wednesday was a waiter at Saung Yeik Mon restaurant, where the defendants say they met with two police officers on the evening of 12 December shortly before they were arrested.

At the time of their detention, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were working on an investigative exposé, published last month, on the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims at the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine State.

Critics of the merits of the ongoing case being brought against the two men say their arrest and prosecution under the Official Secrets Act is directly related to their reporting on conflict-stricken Rakhine State, where media access has been severely curtailed since late August. It was a coordinated attack by Rohingya militants on several security outposts on 25 August that prompted a fierce counter-insurgency campaign by Burmese security forces and the attendant restrictions for media and humanitarian aid groups on access to northern Rakhine State.

The next hearing in the trial has been scheduled for 14 March, when two more witnesses are due to testify.