Myanmar judge accepts police witness' testimony in press freedom case


A Myanmar judge on Wednesday ruled to accept the testimony of a police witness who said that the arrests of two Reuters journalists for allegedly possessing documents relating to troubled Rakhine State was a "trap."

Prosecution witness and police officer Moe Yan Naing told a court last month that a police chief set up the arrests under Myanmar's Official Secrets Act in December last year, corroborating the reporters' claims they were handed documents shortly before being arrested.

Judge Ye Lwin on Wednesday said Moe Yan Naing's testimony stood because it did not deviate from his original police statement and was given under oath in court. Prosecution lawyers last month appealed to have him declared a "hostile witness" and have his testimony retracted.

"It is a big step forward," Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer for the reporters, said outside a court in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. "This was the very first testimony that supported our version."

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been covering a massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State last year, which was part of a military operation that drove nearly 700,000 Rohingya from the country and has been labelled "ethnic cleansing" by the UN.

Moe Yan Naing will be cross-examined by defence lawyers at the next hearing on May 9, according to Khin Maung Zaw.

Commenting on reports that the policeman had been jailed for speaking out, Wa Lone said as he was taken back to prison, "we are very sorry for his sentence as it gives the message that reporters cannot contact police."    (dpa)

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