Myanmar Authorities Prevent Family From Visiting Whistleblower Policeman

Myanmar authorities continue to refuse family access to a detained policeman who revealed the setup of two Reuters journalists, contradicting a statement by a police spokesman who said they could visit the officer after he testified that a police official ordered the reporters’ entrapment, the officer’s brother said Wednesday.

Police Captain Moe Yan Naing testified on April 20 in Yangon’s Northern District Court that Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko ordered officers to set up reporters Thet Oo Maung, also known as Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were investigating the murders of Rohingya Muslim civilians by the Myanmar military during a crackdown in Rakhine state

Police arrested the pair of reporters on Dec. 12 on the outskirts of Yangon shortly after they had dinner with two police officers who gave them documents related to the crackdown. They were formally charged on Jan. 10 with obtaining state secrets and face up to 14 years in prison if found guilty.

Police had identified Moe Yan Naing, who was serving in the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion outside Yangon, as one of two officers allegedly involved in the case, and arrested him on Dec. 12. He faces up to two years in jail and dismissal on police misconduct charges.

A day after Moe Yan Naing testified about the entrapment in court on April 20, authorities ordered his wife and three children to move out of a police housing complex.

On Wednesday, his family went to the 8th Security Police Battalion, where Moe Yan Naing is being held, after police spokesman Colonel Myo Thu Soe told RFA’s Myanmar Service a day earlier that his relatives would be allowed to see him. But authorities turned them away.

“They told us to wait a little while because they had to report to top level police leaders,” said Ye Wint Naing, Moe Yan Naing’s brother. “We waited for more than an hour.”

“After that, a policeman came back to the gate and told us that my brother was not there,” he said. “When we asked him where my brother was, he said he didn’t know. He said the only thing he knew was that my brother was being detained in a safe place.”

The officer also did not allow the family to leave food they brought for Moe Yan Naing, Ye Wint Naing said.

RFA was unable to contact Myo Thu Soe by phone on Wednesday for comment.

Earlier this week, Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission requested that the Ministry of Home Affairs protect Moe Yan Naing’s rights, including the right to see his family members while he is being detained.

Hostile, unreliable witness

During the ongoing trial of the two Reuters reporters in Yangon on Wednesday, prosecutors asked the court to declare Moe Yan Naing a hostile and unreliable witness because they said he told a different story to police when he was arrested.

The officer had been a witness for the prosecution when he gave sworn testimony that the two journalists had been framed.

“We, the reporters’ lawyers, asked the court not to declare Moe Yan Naing an unreliable witness,” said attorney Thyan Zaw Aung after the hearing. “We don’t know what the judge will decide on it next week, but we stated our arguments and submitted detailed documents.”

If the judge doesn’t declare him an unreliable witness, he will remain a government witness, said Khin Maung Zaw, another attorney representing the two journalists.

“If that’s the case, then prosecutors can’t cross-examine him,” he said. “Only we can cross-examine him.”

The judge said he will decide on May 2 whether the officer was credible during his previous testimony.

Myanmar's treatment of the press caused Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to drop the country to 137 in its annual 180-nation ranking this year.

“The government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has lost all credibility in regards to its obligation to defend the role of the media in a functioning democracy,” RSF said in its report.

In the meantime, more than 40 civil society organization are preparing to send an open letter to President Win Myint calling for justice for Moe Yan Naing and the two reporters.

Reported by Htet Arkar and Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.