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As Reuters journalists’ trial continues, police conduct is questioned

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone is escorted by police after a court hearing in Yangon on 6 February 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

Two Reuters journalists in a high-profile trial facing charges under Burma’s Official Secrets Act appeared for their fourth hearing at a Yangon court on Tuesday, defiantly maintaining their innocence and accusing police of mishandling the case.

Wa Lone, one of the two defendants, told reporters outside the Northern District Court that police did not carry out their investigation in good faith, accusing them of providing false or misleading testimony.

“We feel that the case has been unjustly brought against us,” said Wa Lone, 31.

The court took testimony from just one witness for the prosecution on Tuesday, Police Second Lieutenant Tin Htwe Oo, who was part of the team that detained Wa Lone and his 27-year-old Reuters colleague Kyaw Soe Oo on 12 December. Tin Htwe Oo told the court that he had burned the notes he wrote on the night of the arrest about the case. He did not provide an explanation for doing so when pressed by the defence’s lawyers, but did say he was acting of his own volition and was not instructed to burn the papers.

Instead of the primary source material, Tin Htwe Oo on Tuesday read from a diary in which he said he had copied the account from the original notes.

His testimony’s unusual provenance raised the eyebrows of lawyers for the defendants.

“I’m interested in why he has burned the papers,” said defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung.

He said he suspected that Tin Htwe Oo’s testimony was guided by instructions from someone else, and that at least some portion of the notes in the diary was written within the past week, noting that two entries were dated 3 and 5 February. Other dates penned were 1-4 January, and the 10th, 20th and 31st of last month.

Reuters released a statement on Tuesday following the hearing, saying: “We believe that the ongoing court proceedings will demonstrate their innocence and they will be able to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar.”

The international news wire’s statement added: “We are grateful for the expressions of support for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and continue to call for their prompt release.”

The two journalists were detained in December on the outskirts of Yangon, 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.

Their next hearing has been scheduled for 14 February.

In January, Wa Lone’s wife sent a letter to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the case, but she said she has not yet received any response.

“I’m always thinking that Wa Lone will come back home with me after the hearings. But it hasn’t happened yet,” she said.