Myanmar Police Officer Tells Court Reuters Journalists Were Set Up

Myanmar police ordered the entrapment of two reporters for Reuters news agency on trial for allegedly possessing state secrets for their work investigating violence against Rohingya Muslims by the military in Rakhine state, a police officer said Friday during sworn testimony before the court.

Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko ordered officers to set up reporters Thet Oo Maung, also known as Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing told Yangon’s Northern District Court.

Police arrested the pair on Dec. 12 on the outskirts of Yangon shortly after they had dinner with two police officers who gave them documents about a military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state.

They were formally charged on Jan. 10 with obtaining state secrets and face up to 14 years in prison if found guilty.

In December, 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.

Moe Yan Naing said he met Wa Lone once on Nov. 23 at a teahouse to discuss police operations in Rakhine, but he was not among the officers when the two reporters were arrested. He also said he had never met with Kyaw Soe Oo.

Aa witness for the prosecution, Moe Yan Naing told the court that Tin Ko Ko, who was in charge of the internal investigation, ordered Police Lance Corporal Naing Lin to set up a meeting with Wa Lone and give him documents from the battalion.

Of the six policemen who were interrogated in the matter, only Moe Yan Naing and Khin Maung Lin have been detained since Dec. 12 on charges of violating the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act and the Police Disciplinary Act.

During the hearing, Moe Yan Naing said Tin Ko Ko had “disgraced the union government and made the union government misunderstood by the international community.”

“I am revealing the truth because police of any rank must maintain their own integrity,” he told reporters after the court hearing. “It is true that they were set up.”

Moe Yan Naing had served at the Inn Din village regional police station in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township where the crackdown took place.

At the time of their arrest, the two reporters were working on a story about the brutal murders of 10 Rohingya civilians from Inn Din, and the news agency later produced a gripping account of the killings by soldiers and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist neighbors.

Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief’s office announced last week that seven officers and soldiers of other ranks involved in the killing of the 10 Rohingya had been sentenced to 10 years in prison following an investigation of the incident.

In the meantime, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo remain in detention in Yangon’s Insein Prison until their next court hearing on April 25.

‘Court finally heard truth’

Stephen J. Adler, president and editor-in-chief of Reuters, called for the release of the journalists after the hearing.

“Today the court finally heard the truth,” he said in a statement. “One of the prosecution’s own witnesses admitted that the police received orders to plant evidence and arrest Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on false charges. This case cannot be squared with fairness or justice, and it’s time to bring it to an end. We call for our journalists’ immediate release.”

Lawyers for the two defendants and Myanmar journalists previously had told RFA that it was likely that police had entrapped the two reporters.

“As police Captain Moe Yan Naing told the truth, it is very supportive for the reporters’ freedom,” said Thant Zaw, one of the attorneys representing the reporters, following Friday’s hearing.

Moe Yan Maing “took a risk” by telling the court about his detention and that Tin Ko Ko’s actions destroyed the integrity of the Myanmar Police Force, he said.

Lawyers representing the journalists filed a motion for a dismissal of the case in late March, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges and inconsistencies in witness testimony. The judge rejected the request because others had not yet testified.

Myanmar Press Council member Myint Kyaw said whether Moe Yan Naing's testimony will be grounds for the dismissal of the case remains to be seen.

“Police Captain Moe Yan Naing told the truth, and we welcome what he did,” he said. “But we have to wait and see if the reporters can be freed now that someone has told the truth.”

Zayar Hlaing, editor of the investigative magazine Maw Kun, said Moe Yan Naing’s words have an even greater impact on Myanmar society.

“Both the army and police force are essential institutions in a country, but the police are closer to the people,” he said. “The attitude of the police force will determine a country’s rule of law and integrity.”

“A policeman spoke the truth, and it is good for society,” he said. “The relevant authorities should pay attention to this until justice is served.”

Sein Win, director of the Myanmar Journalism Institute, expressed concern about Moe Yan Naing’s safety.

“I respect and appreciate Police Captain Moe Yan Naing for telling the truth,” he said. “It shows that the military and security guards are used as part of a political agenda. He is brave, but I am worried for his safety.”

Reported by Aung Theinkha, Khin Khin Ei, and Thinn Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.