A lawyer for two Reuters journalists accused of breaching Myanmar’s draconian secrecy law today said the pair were simply doing their job by reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims and urged a judge to dismiss the case.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act – which carries up to 14 years in jail – during their reporting of a military crackdown on the Rohingya minority.
The pair have been held in custody for more than six months during protracted pre-trial hearings.
The Myanmar nationals were arrested in December and accused of possession of leaked sensitive material linked to security operations in crisis-hit Rakhine state.
The allegations against them have been pilloried by rights groups and foreign observers as an assault on media freedom and an effort to stifle reporting on the Rohingya crisis.
Today a judge said the court will decide on July 9 whether the pair will face trial. After delivering closing arguments today, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said he urged the court not to take the case any further.
His clients “were carrying out their responsibilities as journalists,” he said. “It is not government’s responsibility to cover up or hide if its security forces do wrong,” the attorney added.
In his summary, prosecution counsel Kyaw Min Aung said the reporters tried to access “secret papers” and therefore deserved punishment under the secrecy law.
The reporters say they were entrapped by police – a version of events endorsed in court by a whistleblowing cop who testified that officers were ordered to set up the reporters.
The pair had been investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims at Inn Din village in Rakhine state during last year’s military-led crackdown on Rohingya militants.
Army operations forced more than 700,000 of the minority, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar, to flee to Bangladesh.
The military has admitted security forces were involved in a massacre at the site, but vehemently denies allegations it launched a wider campaign of atrocities, including rape and murder.
The UN and the US say the crackdown on the Rohingya was tantamount to ethnic cleansing.
A handcuffed Wa Lone expressed hope for a “fair” ruling next week.
In a statement after the hearing, Reuters’ editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler urged the court to decline to charge the pair.
“Freedom of the press is essential in any democracy, and to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under these circumstances… would seriously undermine Myanmar’s constitutional guarantee of free speech,” he added.