Two journalists have appeared in a Burmese court facing charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act on the same day it was announced that they had won a major press freedom award.
Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo face up to 14 years in jail if convicted after they were arrested in Myanmar (formerly Burma) on 12 December for acquiring “important secret papers” from two policemen.
Reuters last week published the story of the “massacre” of ten men from Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslim population on which the two journalists were working.
The literary and human rights organisation PEN America announced on Wednesday that it was giving the pair its Freedom To Write Award, which honours those who have risked adversity in the cause of free expression.
PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel told the Associated Press: “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were unearthing dark truths with the rigor of professional journalists: interviewing eyewitnesses on all sides and collecting physical and photographic evidence.
“The prosecution of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for the crime of exposing alleged atrocities is a jarring reminder that the fight for free expression in Myanmar remains incomplete and urgent.”
Wa Lone told reporters as he left the court on Wednesday: “I can tell you we worked in accordance with media ethics. I totally believe that.”
Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer representing the journalists, said after the hearing that it had included evidence from the fourth prosecution witness, a police officer who said he took part in the men’s arrest, AP reported.
The defence challenged the officer’s evidence, and questioned whether he was even at the arrest.
Aung added: “So far, the court case is going normally and the article that Reuters has published did not really affect the court case. According to the law and the legal process, we are trying as hard as we can to get things done.”
He said the court had agreed to the defence’s request that two prosecution witnesses, rather than a single one, should give evidence at the next hearing.
Picture: Reuters/Jorge Silva