Key Witness Fails to Show in Final Pretrial Hearing of Reuters Reporters in Myanmar

A senior police officer for the prosecution involved in the case against two Reuters news agency reporters on trial in Myanmar for possessing state secrets told the court on Monday that he made copies of the testimony of other witnesses, while another officer failed to show up to testify.

Thet Oo Maung, also known as Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested on the outskirts of Yangon on Dec. 12 shortly after they had dinner with two police officers who gave them documents related to a brutal military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

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

During a previous hearing, Captain Moe Yan Naing testified that the two were set up by a senior officer. He was sentenced to a year in Yangon’s Insein Prison under the Police Discipline Law for handing classified information to the reporters, and authorities ordered his wife and three children to move out of a police housing complex.

At the final pretrial court hearing on Monday, Police Major Tin Win Maung told the court he had applied to obtain copies of statements given by all other witnesses in the case to learn more about it, Reuters reported.

Lawyers for the defense said he was an unreliable witness because his request, though not illegal, violated police code.

They also said the prosecution had failed to establish how the alleged documents had come into the reporters’ possession, Reuters reported.

'He was not there'

Meanwhile, another witness, Police Corporal Khin Maung Lin, failed to show up in court and has been reported missing.

Khin Maung Lin had previously been detained along with Moe Yan Naing in December for his involvement in the case and was later fired from the police force.

“The prosecutor’s lawyer said during the hearing that they looked for Police Sergeant Khin Maung Lin in Myeik township [of southern Myanmar's Tanintharyi region], where they were informed he could be, but he was not there,” said Thant Zaw Aug, the reporters’ attorney.

“The prosecutor’s lawyer submitted a document saying that Police Sergeant Khin Maung Lin doesn’t live at the address they have for him,” he said.

Khin Maung Zaw, another lawyer representing the journalists, said his clients had been interrogated by police at the Aung Thapyay interrogation center where they were deprived of sleep, though Police Major Tin Win Maung said Monday that he didn’t know whether they had been sent to the facility.

“It seems they want to hide the part about sending the reporters to that interrogation center,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wa Lone expressed disappointment with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi who told Japanese broadcaster NHK last week that the two reporters were arrested because they violated Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.

“We were sad to hear Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi’s interview with NHK,” he told reporters outside the courthouse. “It is very obvious that she was told the wrong information by relevant authorities.”

“I would like to tell her to work for our justice and get true information,” he said.

After six months of pretrial hearings, the court will hear arguments from both sides on July 2 on whether the two reporters should be charged under the colonial-era act in what has become a landmark press freedom case.

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