Defence says Burmese police withheld key evidence in Reuters trial


Data that could support the defence of two Reuters reporters accused of possessing secret documents in Burma was missing from police phone evidence submitted to a court by prosecutors, their lawyers said on Monday.

Defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung said some key files, including communications records from the reporters’ phones before their arrests on 12 December, were not included in a report of the data police say they found on the devices that was accepted as evidence by the court last month.

He requested the court to direct the prosecution to submit further details, arguing the additional files would help reveal “truth and justice”.

Judge Ye Lwin rejected the defence request, saying further details were not necessary because a police IT expert has previously demonstrated how the files were extracted “systematically” from the reporters’ phones.

In what has become a landmark press freedom case, the court in Rangoon has been holding hearings since January to decide whether Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, will be charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung told the court the phones’ call logs were not relevant to the documents that police say they found on the devices. He did not elaborate. Those documents included allegedly confidential government letters and plans for the development of an island off Burma’s west coast for tourism.

A second defence lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters after Monday’s proceedings that the defence believed “evidence which is beneficial to the defence has not been fully disclosed by the prosecution”.

Kyaw Min Aung declined to comment.

Burma’s government spokesman Zaw Htay was not immediately available for comment. Previously, he has declined to discuss details of the proceedings or the police investigation, saying Burma’s courts were independent and the case would be conducted according to the law.

The next hearing in the case was scheduled for Tuesday.

PHONE RECORDS

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 Burma’s Arakan State. The killings took place during a military 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 Rangoon by two policemen they had not met before, having been invited to meet the officers for dinner.