Fri, Sep 07, 2018 - Page 9 News List

How two reporters were punished for uncovering an atrocity

In a Burmese court, the defense’s ability to punch holes in the case was not enough to stop Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from being sentenced to seven years in prison after they investigated the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers

By John Chalmers  /  Reuters, YANGON, MYANMAR

One prosecution witness, civilian official Kyaw Shein, supported the police on the location of the arrests.

Then, in a moment of courtroom drama, defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung reached through the wooden bars of the witness stand and turned over Kyaw Shein’s left hand, which the witness had been glancing at while giving testimony.

On it were written the words “Thet Oo Maung” — the official name of Wa Lone — and below it, “No. 3 Road and Nilar Road junction.”

It is common for people in Myanmar to use more than one name, as Wa Lone does.

Asked if someone had told him to write down the address where police said the arrest took place, Kyaw Shein said no.

He wrote on his hand because he was “forgetful,” he said.

‘ENTRAP HIM’

On April 10, in a move that acknowledged the truth of the Reuters report on the Inn Din massacre, the army announced that seven soldiers had been sentenced to “10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area” for participating in the killings.

Ten days later, the state’s case against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo appeared to suffer a setback when the court heard the reporters’ version of events — astonishingly, from a prosecution witness. They had been arrested as they left a restaurant still holding in their hands documents they had just been given by police officers as part of a plan to ensnare them, said Captain Moe Yan Naing of the paramilitary Eighth Security Police Battalion.

Before the reporters were arrested, Wa Lone had interviewed several members of the battalion about the army crackdown in Rakhine.

At least three police officers told him that the unit supported military operations there.

Moe Yan Naing testified that he was interviewed by Wa Lone in November, and had himself been under arrest since the night of Dec. 12.

Earlier that day, he said, he had been taken to the battalion’s headquarters on the northern edges of Yangon.

When he arrived, he found himself among a group of several policemen who were believed to have given interviews to Wa Lone, he said, adding that they were interrogated about their interactions with the Reuters reporter.

Moe Yan Naing told the court that police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko, who led an internal probe into what the reporters had been told, ordered an officer to arrange a meeting with Wa Lone that night and hand over “secret documents from Battalion Eight.”

Tin Ko Ko gave the documents to a police lance corporal “and told him to give them to Wa Lone,” Moe Yan Naing said.

When Wa Lone left the restaurant, the general continued, the local police were to “entrap him and arrest him,” Moe Yan Naing said.

He told the court he witnessed Tin Ko Ko giving these orders.

“Tin Ko Ko told the police members, ‘If you don’t get Wa Lone, you will go to jail,’” Moe Yan Naing said.

“This officer spoke based on his own feelings,” police spokesman Colonel Myo Thu Soe told Reuters, referring to Moe Yan Naing.

In the days following his testimony, Moe Yan Naing’s wife and three children were evicted from police housing in the capital, Naypyitaw, and he was sentenced to one year in prison for breaking the Police Disciplinary Act by having contact with Wa Lone.

The prosecution sought to have Moe Yan Naing declared an unreliable witness.

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