Police pressured Reuters journalists to bury report on Inn Din massacre, says Wa Lone

YANGON — Jailed Reuters journalist Ko Wa Lone told a Yangon court on July 17 that during a police interrogation, which included sleep deprivation, police officers tried to induce him and his colleague Ko Kyaw Soe Oo not to publish an investigation into a military-led massacre of 10 Muslims in Inn Din village of northern Rakhine State.

The 32-year-old journalist was describing their time at the Aung Thabyay police interrogation centre in Yangon’s northern Mayangone Township in December, after he and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in what strongly resembles a police set-up.

This was the journalists’ first time testifying in the Yangon Northern District Court, though they have been detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison since their arrest. They have undergone six months of pre-trial hearings, where prosecution witnesses were presented and cross-examined. If sentenced, they face 14 years in prison.

On July 9, the judge accepted the charges against them under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly holding classified government documents relating to security deployments in northern Rakhine State, where the Myanmar military has displaced close to 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighbouring Bangladesh in a crackdown on Rohingya militants.

Wa Lone testified that police interrogators told them that if the news agency they work for, Reuters, declined to publish their investigation into the Inn Din massacre, which took place in September, they could negotiate their early release. However, Reuters released the investigative report under the title “Massacre in Myanmar” on February 8.

“I told them that I was a journalist and wrote about the incident as it happened but it was not up to me whether it would be published or not,” Wa Lone told the court.

He told the court that the Inn Din story was 80 percent complete at that time, and that they were only trying to give government officials a chance to respond to their findings.

Wa Lone said that, on December 14, during their detention at the Aung Thabyay centre, Police Lt-Col Myint Htwe accessed their phones and saw a photograph of the 10 Muslim men being executed in Inn Din village, a centrepiece of the Reuters investigation.

According to Wa Lone, Myint Htwe then told them that officials had been dispatched to northern Rakhine to investigate the incident and publicize their findings ahead of the release of the Reuters report.

Wa Lone also said that high-ranking police officers visited them in Insein Prison after Reuters published their report in February. They asked the journalists to verify the Reuters report.

The officers included Myanmar Police spokesperson Col Myo Thu Soe, Police Brig-Gen Tin Ko Ko and Police Maj Min Thant. The latter led the interrogation, according to Wa Lone.

Wa Lone said that, in two video-recorded meetings in Insein Prison, held separately with him and with Kyaw Soe Oo, “they made us read the Burmese language version of the Reuters report and asked us to sign to certify the accuracy of the report.”

“Brig-Gen Tin Ko Ko also asked us to identify the sources in our report,” Wa Lone said, but the journalists refused to do so, citing journalism ethics, and suggested the police ask the Reuters agency instead.

Wa Lone also testified that he and Kyaw Soe Oo had not tried to obtain any secret documents from the police. Rather, police officers unexpectedly handed them rolled-up documents at a pre-arranged dinner at a restaurant in northern Yangon on the night of 12 December, and they were arrested on leaving the restaurant before even looking at them.

In a pre-trial hearing in April, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, a prosecution witness, blew the whistle by testifying that Brig-Gen Tin Ko Ko had ordered him and other subordinate officers to entrap the journalists in the manner described by Wa Lone. Police have denied this version of events, saying the two were arrested while walking the streets.

Wa Lone told the court he and Kyaw Soe Oo were only “doing their job, for the good of society, with no intention of betraying the country.”

The trial will resume on July 23.

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