Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission said on Monday that it has asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to protect the rights of a detained police officer who testified on Friday that another police official had ordered the entrapment of two Reuters reporters investigating a military crackdown in Rakhine state.
Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, who was serving in the the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion outside Yangon, told the city's Northern District Court on Friday 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.
Police arrested the pair on Dec. 12 on the outskirts of Yangon after they had dinner with two police officers who gave them classified documents about the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state. They were detained by the Home Affairs Ministry for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and formally charged on Jan. 10 with obtaining state secrets. They face up to 14 years in prison.
The day after Moe Yan Naing’s sworn testimony, authorities ordered his wife and three children to move out of a police housing complex.
At a press conference in Mandalay following the eviction, the officer’s wife asked the country’s top leaders for justice for her husband and for protection for the family, which is now staying with Moe Yan Naing’s father in Khin Oo township in Sagaing region.
“They [top-level police] are treating my husband unfairly and unjustly,” Moe Yan Naing’s wife Tu Tu said.
“What my husband said at court was true,” she said. “Everybody in the 8th Security Police Battalion knows what he said is true, but they won’t say anything if they are asked because they are afraid.”
In the meantime, Moe Yan Naing, one of two officers arrested on Dec. 12 for alleged involvement in the case, is being detained at the 8th Security Police Battalion, police spokesman Colonel Myo Thu Soe told RFA on Sunday.
Since his arrest, Moe Yan Maing has been prevented from seeing his relatives. He faces charges for allegedly violating the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act and the Police Disciplinary Act.
As a witness for the prosecution, Moe Yan Naing told the court on Friday 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.
Moe Yan Naing said he himself 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.
'We can't interfere'
Myanmar's independent human rights panel, consisting of 11 retired bureaucrats and academics, has taken up the issue of protecting Moe Yan Naing as a whistleblower.
“According to the law, we can’t interfere in a court case, but we have been thinking about how to help Police Captain Moe Yan Naing,” said Yu Lwin Aung, a member of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.
Based on a letter the commission received from Myanmar’s Committee for the Protection of Journalists on Monday morning, the commission prepared a statement to submit to the Ministry of Home Affairs, saying that it is following the case, he said.
“Though we can’t interfere in the court case, nobody should be deprived of his or her human rights, such as the right to see family members and a lawyer, the right not to be subjected to torture, and the right not to lose one’s health care,” Yu Lwin Aung said.
The commission will provide assistance to Moe Yan Naing to ensure that he is not deprived of his rights, he said.
“We requested that the ministry protect the basic human rights of Police Captain Moe Yan Naing and his family members,” he said. “It is possible that the ministry will pay a good deal of attention to it and work on it.”
Ye Htut, Myanmar's former information minister, noted the difference in the information from when the two reporters were arrested in December and the information that recently came out.
“It is time for the government and the Ministry of Home Affairs to consider very carefully about how to handle this case,” he said.
“The grounds for the reporters’ arrests have been doubtful since the beginning, and that doubt is growing stronger now because of the police captain’s testimony,” he said. “The Myanmar Police Force’s action to evict Police Captain Moe Yan Naing’s family is something that can cause people to lose their trust in the government and in the Home Affairs Ministry as well as harm the images of the government and the Myanmar Police Force.”
‘They can’t hide it’
Legal and media professionals, who have said from the beginning of the trial that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were set up by police, suggested that the case now be dropped.
Attorney Kyi Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service that officials no longer can cover up the entrapment.
“They can’t hide it anymore,” he said. “There are many implications in the country regarding this case after Police Captain Moe Yan Naing’s testimony. It will be the same in the international community. In my opinion, [military] authorities should withdraw this case as soon as possible. If not, their situation will get worse.”
Attorney Thein Than Oo pointed out that Win Htein, a former lawmaker and spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said the arrests of the two reporters constituted entrapment.
“And everybody learned what he said was correct after Police Captain Moe Yan Naing’s testimony,” he said. “In our country, we don’t get justice for any case in which the Ministry of Home Affairs files as a plaintiff. We have to wait and see whether this case receives justice or not.”
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 in April 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 Wednesday.
Reported by Htet Arkar, Kyaw Zaw Win, Thinn Thiri, and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.