All five remaining witnesses for the prosecution in the case against two Reuters news agency reporters on trial in Myanmar for possessing state secrets are policemen, a defense lawyer said Thursday, raising questions as to whether the witnesses will contradict previous testimony by another officer that authorities set up the pair.
At the most recent court session on Wednesday, Police Lance Corporal Naing Lin, called by the prosecution, testified that he met the two reporters — Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo — on the night of their arrest on Dec. 12, but denied handing over classified documents to incriminate them.
The two were taken into custody on the outskirts of Yangon 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.
Naing Lin’s testimony contradicted that of Captain Moe Yan Naing, another witness for the prosecution, who testified in court on April 20 that Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko had ordered Police Sergeant Naing Lin and another officer to set up the reporters.
The day before Naing Lin took the stand, Police Chief Major General Aung Win Oo denied accusations that police had entrapped the reporters and said that the testimony to be given by the remaining witnesses would be important to the case.
“Yes, it will be important because all of them are police officers,” Than Zaw Aung told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “With the police chief saying that we should wait and see what the other witnesses will testify in future hearings, we are very interested to see and hear who will show up at court and what they will say.”
The attorney went on to say that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo met Naing Lin and another officer who gave them documents from Police Security Battalion 8, which was stationed in Rakhine state between April and November 2017.
“After Moe Yan Naing testified, we knew that what the reporters told us was correct and that Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko had ordered their setup,” Than Zaw Aung said.
“One day after the police chief said to wait and see what other witnesses would testify, Naing Lin appeared in court and testified that he didn’t give anything to the reporters,” he said. “It is very interesting to see what is behind the words of the police chief.”
Because Moe Yan Naing testified that Tin Ko Ko ordered the entrapment, the court has the authority to summon the police brigadier general to testify, he added.
Myanmar Now case
Meanwhile, a court in the central Myanmar city of Mandalay on Thursday turned down a request by the editor of a domestic publication on trial for defamation to disallow video evidence against him submitted by a supporter of an extremist Buddhist monk he is accused of insulting.
Swe Win, editor-in-chief of the nonprofit independent Myanmar Now news service, is facing charges under Article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act for allegedly defaming notorious firebrand monk Wirathu, who frequently uses hate speech targeting the country’s Muslim minority.
State prosecutor Kyaw Myo Shwe said during a hearing on Feb. 13 that he would withdraw the lawsuit against Swe Win if he apologized for sharing a Facebook post criticizing Wirathu for supporting the alleged murderer of a prominent Muslim lawyer. However, Swe Win declined the offer.
The Maha Aung Myay Township Court on Thursday rejected a request by Swe Win’s lawyer Myo Min Zaw that it take action against Kyaw Myo Swe for submitting unreliable evidence in the form of a screenshot photo of his client that was published on the Burmese version of the online news service Frontier Myanmar.
When the court asked Kyaw Myo Swe to submit the original web page, he could not produce it.
“The judge said the evidence submitted by the defense did not play a vital role in the lawsuit, so she rejected the complaint,” Myo Min Zaw said after the hearing.
For a second time, Kyaw Myo Swe offered to drop the lawsuit if Swe Win apologized to Wirathu, but the editor refused.
Kyaw Myo Swe’s next hearing is scheduled for May 30.
Article 66(d) prohibits the use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for those found guilty of violating it.
The controversial statute is frequently used by those in powerful positions to silence their critics.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun and Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.