One of two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar maintained his innocence Monday to charges he broke the country’s secrecy laws in reporting on the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in December, accused of possessing documents linked to security operations against Rohingya militants in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.
During court proceedings, Wa Lone, the first to testify, recounted a meeting with a police officer in northern Yangon, after which he was almost immediately arrested. According to Reuters, Wa Lone says that the officer handed him documents and instructed him to photograph them. Wa Lone testified that although he met with policemen, he did not ever try to take any documents from them. The officer, Naing Lin, testified two months ago that he met with the two journalists on the day of their arrest, but that he gave them no documents.
He and Kyaw Soe Oo, are being tried for allegedly violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a case that has drawn international condemnation. If convicted, they could face 14 years in prison.
“We are deeply disappointed that the court declined to end this protracted and baseless proceeding against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” Reuters president and editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said in a statement earlier this month.
“These Reuters journalists were doing their jobs in an independent and impartial way, and there are no facts or evidence to suggest that they’ve done anything wrong or broken any law.”
Last week, as the journalists were charged, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said Myanmar’s courts are independent and that the case would be conducted according to the law.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state since August, after attacks by Rohingya militants against state security forces led to military reprisals. The U.N. said the military retaliated in a well-organized, systematic and coordinated manner. The U.N.’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has described the situation facing the mainly Muslim Rohingya in majority Buddhist Myanmar as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Fleeing Rohingya have told harrowing accounts of the military burning their villages in Rakhine, and of rapes, killings, looting and the laying of landmines to prevent them from returning to their homes.
A recent report by a U.N. investigator warned that Myanmar’s unprecedented level of human rights violations and abuses against its people will not end without concrete action by the international community against the government and military authorities.