Police witness no-show as Reuters reporters mark six months in detention

A Burmese police investigator failed to show up at court on Tuesday to testify as a prosecution witness against two Reuters reporters who were arrested in December and accused of possessing secret government papers.

Police Captain Myo Lwin, one of the officers who escorted the two journalists to the courthouse, said the key police witness Major Tin Win Maung was not present because the officer was “investigating two cases” in central Burma.

The police major conducted the inquiry after the journalists were arrested on 12 December. They have now spent six months in detention.

“Six months is too long, but we are not depressed … They can’t destroy us,” reporter Wa Lone told reporters after the proceedings were swiftly adjourned. “I will always be a journalist.”

In what has become a landmark press freedom case, 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.

Judge Ye Lwin adjourned the hearing until Monday, when he again summoned Major Tin Win Maung to appear.

Lead prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung declined to comment after Tuesday’s proceedings.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay told Reuters by phone that Burmese courts were independent and the case would be conducted according to the law. He said the two reporters were being treated fairly and their rights were protected.

In an interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK last week, Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the two reporters “were arrested because they broke the Official Secret Act.”