A Myanmar court on Wednesday refused to dismiss a case against two Reuters journalists, who were arrested on December 12 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, 1923. The reporters were arrested for allegedly collecting classified documents from their sources in the police. The journalists – Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – are facing a maximum prison term of 14 years.
The court in Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings in the case since January. On Wednesday, Judge Ye Lwin said there was “a proper reason” for the charges against the journalists, and so they should not be released, Reuters reported.
The journalists’ lawyers had asked the case to be dismissed, saying witness testimonies were inconsistent and insufficient to charge them. Besides, there were procedural mistakes made by the police during the arrest and searches, they claimed.
“The judge said that eight witnesses are still to testify and our claims of baseless evidence from persecution witnesses are not yet true,” Than Zaw Aung, one of the journalists’ lawyers, told AP.
“I am not happy at all,” Kyaw Soe Oo said outside the courtroom on Wednesday. “We journalists just did our job as we have the right of free press in a democracy and now we are facing the charge that could probably put us in prison for 14 years.”
The two journalists were arrested after they were invited to meet police officers for dinner in the north of Yangon. The Ministry of Information said they had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”.
The case has drawn widespread international attention, with the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as the United Nations, having called for the reporters to be freed.
On Tuesday, the Myanmar Army sentenced seven soldiers to “10 years in prison with hard labour in a remote area” for being involved in the killing.