Rohingya crisis: Myanmar to try Reuters journalists who reported on massacre

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Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo sit beside police officers as they leave Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar July 9, 2018. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Wa Lone (left) and Kyaw Soe Oo face up to 14 years in prison if found guilty

Two Reuters journalists accused of illegally obtaining information while covering the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar will face trial.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, have been charged with breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

They were arrested and jailed late last year. Reuters has called for their release and says they were doing their jobs reporting on a massacre.

The men face up to 14 years in jail if found guilty. They deny the charges.

The crisis in mainly Buddhist Myanmar’s north-western Rakhine state hit global headlines late last year when hundreds of thousands of Muslims fled a deadly military crackdown.

The military says the operation was targeting Rohingya militants in Rakhine, but rights groups say thousands of civilians have been killed.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating the mass execution last year of Rohingya Muslims by soldiers and villagers. Reuters says this lies behind the arrest of the two journalists.

Image caption The military insists it it only targets militants, not civilians

Defence lawyers had asked for the case to be thrown out for lack of evidence, but the judge decided there were sufficient grounds the men had collected evidence from state officials for the case to proceed to trial.

The pair have been in custody while pre-trial hearings have taken place.

“We have the right to a defence. The court did not decide we are guilty,” Wa Lone said after Monday’s ruling in Yangon.

What happened to the journalists?

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on 12 December after meeting police and receiving documents from them.

Authorities say they were “arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine state and security forces” and that the information had been “illegally acquired with the intention to share it with foreign media”.

What do we know about the investigation?

It centres around an episode in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine on 2 September last year.

Image copyright HANDOUT
Image caption These are the men whose deaths the Reuters journalists were investigating

Reuters says its two journalists had been collecting evidence of the execution of 10 men based on interviews with Buddhist villagers, security personnel and photographs. The agency says it has pieced together what happened to them.

According to Reuters, a group of Rohingya men seeking safety on a beach were singled out as their village was raided.

Buddhist men from the village were then ordered to dig a grave and then the 10 men were killed, at least two hacked to death by the Buddhist villagers with the rest shot by the army.

After the arrest of the two journalists the Burmese military carried out their own investigation into the incident. The investigation corroborated what the two journalists had found – that there had been an execution.

However, the military described the 10 men as “Bengali terrorists” and said that they were executed because they could not be transported due to attacks on police stations by Rohingya militants.

What does Myanmar’s government say?

The government in Myanmar (also called Burma) defends the military operation in Rakhine.

On the incident at Inn Dinn, authorities published a full statement on the findings of their investigation into the killings. It said that action would be taken against villagers who took part and security personnel who contravened rules of engagement.

On the journalists, the government has always said they were detained only in relation to a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has previously said the men will be afforded the protection of the law.

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