The Dignity of Speaking Out – Support Those Who Risk their Lives to Tell the Truth in Myanmar

April 26th, 2018  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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In a shocking twist in the trial of the two Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for alleged violations of the Official Secrets Act, prosecution witness Police Captain Moe Yan Naing testified that he had been ordered by Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko to “trap” the journalists by giving them secret documents. By publicly revealing this plot, Captain Moe Yan Naing told journalists covering the trial that he hoped to show “that police officers, of any rank, have dignity.” Indeed, this rare show of bravery and dignity by a member of the state security forces reminds us that among those who implement the brutal commands of the military and police, there may be some whose consciences compel them to come forward and tell the truth, despite the risks.

Prosecution witness Police Captain Moe Yan Naing testified that he had been ordered by Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko to “trap” the journalists by giving them secret documents in his hopes to show that “police officers, of any rank, have dignity.”

The lawyer for the prosecution asked the judge to declare Captain Moe Yan Naing a “hostile witness,” due to the previous conflicting statements he gave outside of court, a designation which would remove the testimony from the official record. However, no designation from the court can remove the explosive testimony from public knowledge, where it has already made an impact. Meanwhile, Captain Moe Yan Naing remains incommunicado in prison under charges of violations of the Official Secrets Act and the Police Act. In response to concerns for his safety, the Myanmar[1] National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) has announced that it will monitor the situation, and urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to protect Captain Moe Yan Naing’s rights. Worryingly, the morning after his testimony, his family was evicted from their police housing in the capital of Myanmar, Naypyidaw, in a move that reeks of retaliation but that a police spokesman brushed off as “coincidence.”

Despite the testimony of Captain Moe Yan Naing, the details of the alleged entrapment of the two Reuters journalists, as well as the military’s own internal probe into the massacre in Inn Din village that the reporters were investigating when they were arrested, remain shrouded in mystery and rumor. Despite an official announcement that seven soldiers involved in the killings had been sentenced by a military court, the names of the perpetrators and their location of detention are still not publicly available, not to mention information about the proceedings in military court and the truth about the circumstances surrounding the massacre.

Given the complete lack of information about the military’s response to the Inn Din massacre, it is not surprising that allegedly-false news has recently circulated about the convicted soldiers. During the Myanmar new year holiday in mid-April, President U Win Myint announced an amnesty for 8,490 prisoners, including 36 political prisoners. Government-affiliated broadcaster Myanmar National Television (MNTV) reported that the seven soldiers convicted for the Inn Din massacre were among those released from Sittwe Prison. Shortly after the report, which was widely shared on social media, government spokesman Zaw Htay refuted the news on his own social media accounts, accusing those who had shared it (though not the original State-affiliated source), including UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, of spreading “fake news.” MNTV removed the story and apologized, as did Ms. Yanghee Lee. However, given the lack of transparency around the military court proceedings and the soldiers’ identities, it is still unknown whether the soldiers remain in prison or whether they were even sentenced given the lack of independent verification and access to information.

Information about the Myanmar Army’s atrocities, and the complicity of the government and police force, continues to seep out despite the military and government’s efforts to close ranks and control the narrative. For the first time, the UN Secretary-General has included the Myanmar army on a UN blacklist of militaries that have committed sexual violence in armed conflict. In addition, Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, recently requested that the court determine whether it has jurisdiction over deportation of the Rohingya as a crime against humanity, since an essential element of the crime – forced movement across an international border – occurred in Bangladesh, a member of the court. Actions such as these by the international community contribute to revealing the truth by investigating allegations and potentially punishing perpetrators, but international actors cannot reveal the truth on their own.

The strength and courage of people in Myanmar using their voices to speak out and seek truth and justice for atrocities committed against marginalized people provides a powerful foundation for democracy and human rights, and must be supported.

The strength and courage of people in Myanmar using their voices to speak out and seek truth and justice for atrocities committed against marginalized people provides a powerful foundation for democracy and human rights, and must be supported. Starting with the survivors of the violence themselves, others like the Reuters journalists and the local Rakhine sources they spoke to in their investigation of the Inn Din massacre; countless civilians, local leaders and human rights defenders in conflict areas; and now Captain Moe Yan Naing are joining the survivors in standing up for what they know is right, risking their safety and even their family’s well-being in the process as they come under fire by the Myanmar Government and the Military. They must be supported and protected, not retaliated against.

These courageous acts of dignity and humanity require the public’s support as the government continues to refuse independent investigations by the UN and deny the truth that the public rightly deserves. The more people who start to speak up, the closer Myanmar will get to a true and just democracy with real rule of law. Those who expose the truth must not be punished. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo must be immediately released, as must Captain Moe Yan Naing. While moves by the MNHRC to monitor the situation of Captain Moe Yan Naing are encouraging, the commission must continue to follow-up with concrete actions and also act similarly in other cases. Despite the recent amnesty, over 90 political prisoners remain in prison in Myanmar, many of whom are detained for speaking out about military abuses. The Myanmar Government must side with these whistleblowers, journalists, and human rights defenders, not the abusive Myanmar Army, and cooperate with independent UN mechanisms in seeking the truth of the crimes about which these courageous individuals have spoken.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

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Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.