YANGON (Reuters) – A Myanmar policeman told a court on Wednesday he met two Reuters reporters on the night of their arrest in December, but denied giving them secret documents to incriminate them.
His testimony contradicted a previous witness who last week said police had “set up” the pair.
“During my meeting with Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, I didn’t take anything from them and I didn’t give anything to them,” Police Lance Corporal Naing Lin told Judge Ye Lwin, overseeing the hearing at a court in Yangon.
“I went and met with Wa Lone because he called me and requested a meeting. I didn’t call Wa Lone and ask him to come meet me,” said Naing Lin, who said he met the Reuters reporters over dinner and was not accompanied by any other policeman.
Follow latest updates on detained reporters here
A previous witness, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, has told the court a police chief ordered Naing Lin and another policeman to give “secret” documents to Wa Lone in an operation to entrap him.
The court in Yangon has been holding hearings since January to decide whether Wa Lone 32, and his Reuters colleague Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, will be charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, for allegedly obtaining confidential documents.
At the time of their arrest, the reporters had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The killings took place during an army crackdown that United Nations agencies say sent nearly 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
The reporters have told relatives they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some rolled up papers at a restaurant in northern Yangon by two policemen they had not met before, having been invited to meet the officers for dinner.
Naing Lin said Wa Lone called him in December and introduced himself as a Reuters reporter, requesting an interview about his experiences in Rakhine, where Naing Lin’s Police Security Battalion 8 was stationed between April and November last year.
During the dinner, Wa Lone asked Naing Lin about the 10 murdered Rohingya, Naing Lin said.
During cross-examination, defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said phone records show Naing Lin calling Wa Lone three times in the afternoon and the evening of Dec. 12, the day the pair were arrested.
Naing Lin said several times he did not call Wa Lone, and insisted it was the reporter who called and initiated the meeting.
Lead prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung declined to comment after the hearing.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay was not immediately available for comment. After last week’s hearing he said that the courts were independent, and the case would be conducted according to the law.
POLICE WITNESS FIRED
The previous witness, Captain Moe Yan Naing, has told the court that hours before the reporters were arrested, he was taken to the Battalion 8 compound with five other officers who had previously been contacted by Wa Lone, where they were interrogated by the police Special Branch.
When the officer in charge, Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko, found out that one of the six, Naing Lin, had been in contact with Wa Lone but had not met him in person, he ordered Naing Lin to use his phone to arrange a meeting with Wa Lone that evening, according to Moe Yan Naing.
He said Tin Ko Ko instructed Naing Lin to give Wa Lone documents related to Battalion 8 activities in Rakhine “in order to have him arrested”.
Since first giving testimony in April, Moe Yan Naing, 47, has been sentenced to a year in jail for violating police discipline. Police have said the sentence was not related to the account he gave in court.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Police Director General Aung Win Oo dismissed Moe Yan Naing’s testimony, saying Tin Ko Ko did not know the two reporters and that he did not order them to be set up. Reuters has been unable to contact Tin Ko Ko for comment.
At the end of Wednesday’s hearing Police Captain Myo Lwin, the officer in charge of escorting witnesses in custody to court, said Sergeant Khin Maung Lin, who was due to testify next week, had been fired from the police and his whereabouts were unknown. He did not elaborate further.
Both Moe Yan Naing and Naing Lin said Khin Maung Lin was among the six policemen who had had contact with Wa Lone before the arrest.
The Ministry of Information said in December, after the journalists were detained, that Moe Yan Naing and Khin Maung Lin had also been arrested under the Official Secrets Act. No further information on the proceedings against Khin Maung Lin had been released since then.
Reporting Shoon Naing, Thu Thu Aung and Sam Aung Moon