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Reuters reporter arrested in Myanmar says he was ‘entrapped’

July 24, 2018

A Reuters journalist charged with breaching a draconian secrecy law told a Myanmar court Tuesday he was entrapped by police while reporting with a colleague on a massacre of Rohingya, and had been abused in custody.

Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, and Wa Lone, 32, are charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act and face up to 14 years in jail for possessing classified documents relating to security operations in northern Rakhine state.

They were arrested last December after reporting on a military crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine which the UN has described as “textbook” ethnic cleansing.

The journalists had been investigating the extra-judicial killing of 10 Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din — a massacre in which the military eventually admitted involvement.

Giving evidence after seven months of pre-trial hearings, Kyaw Soe Oo said he and Wa Lone were invited to dinner by two police officers and handed secret documents just before they were arrested.

“(Officer Naing Lin) gave us the documents. We didn’t ask for any documents from him,” he said Tuesday.

“Five minutes later they went off, and as we left the restaurant we were arrested.”

Naing Lin has previously denied handing anything to the journalists.

Kyaw Soe Oo said he was badgered by police about why, as an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist, he was reporting on the killing of Rohingya Muslims, widely seen as illegal immigrants in the Buddhist-majority country.

“I told them that I wanted to be professional and I was writing the news to help the rule of law,” he said.

He added that police forced him “kneel for about four hours” after they discovered photos relating to the Inn Din killings on his mobile phone.

The testimony echoed Wa Lone’s earlier account describing how the pair had been hooded and taken to a notorious interrogation centre where they were deprived of sleep for three days.

Northern Rakhine state has been in virtual lockdown since the military campaign which began last August forced some 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. Journalists and observers are only able to visit on short chaperoned trips.

Hundreds of Rohingya villages were razed and refugees have recounted how Myanmar troops and mobs of Rakhine Buddhists committed widespread murder, rape and torture.

The military did concede its troops were guilty of murder in the Inn Din killings but insists it was an isolated incident.

It says its campaign was justified in order to root out Rohingya militants who killed about a dozen border guard police on August 25.

Doctors Without Borders estimates that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of the bloody crackdown alone.

Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been condemned globally for her refusal to stand up for the Rohingya, and the prosecution of the Reuters pair has further battered her reputation.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.