Legal and Media Reviews on the Conviction to Seven Years of Imprisonment of Two Myanmar Journalists, Thet Oo Maung (aka) Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo (aka) Moe Aung, Under the Official Secrets Act
1. Two Myanmar reporters, Thet Oo Maung (aka) Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo (aka) Moe Aung, were convicted to seven years each by U Ye Lwin, deputy district judge of Yangon Northern District Court for violating the Burma Official Secrets Act 3 (1) (c).
2. In the case, the testimony of the critical witness, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, was not taken into account by the court. When he testified at the court, he testified as a police officer from Battalion 8 police station. Similarly, Police Lance Corporal Naing Lin testified of his presence at Saung Yeik Mon restaurant to meet with the reporters. Moreover, the fact that Police Corporal Khin Maung Lin was not able to be presented as a witness breaks the links in the case. In the public’s opinion, it can be considered that the prosecutor failed to present an important witness.
3. Regarding the documents obtained from the journalists and the evidence found in the phones: the fact that no action was taken against anyone from the battalion, office, officer in charge of the department or staff who are related to the documents, but only against the reporters, shows that the arrest was a total set up. Although the evidence extracted from the mobile phones of the reporters was claimed to be secret documents, these had already been published in newspapers.
4. Moreover, the report submitted by the crime division was an incomplete review. Although, Police Col. Aung Kaw San presented himself as a technical expert, not only could he not provide any evidence for this to the court but also he was not able to turn on the phones in front of the court when it was filled with the reporters and the public.
5. In the Myanmar Times notebook seized from Wa Lone’s apartment in which were written the phone numbers of Ko Nyo Tun Aung (AA) and Ko Tun Aung (ANC), it was neither mentioned in the complaint letter nor did the prosecution witnesses emphasize this, but it was somehow claimed that they were the numbers of Ko Nyo Tun Aung(AA) and Ko Tun Aung (ANC) and then assumed that the defendants contacted them over security matters and the court acted based on assumptions and opinions.
6. The Official Secrets Act was prescribed to restrict the sending of spies by governments during the world war. In modern times, that act is no longer appropriate and needs to be reviewed. Conviction to seven years for each of the reporters is forbidding the media and denies the public’s right to access information.
7. The Official Secrets Act is a special kind of act and was prescribed in 1923. News Media Law was enacted in 2014 as Myanmar Union Parliament law No. 12. According to the 1973 Interpretation of Expressions Law section 3(g), if the formerly prescribed law and the lately prescribed law are in conflict, the lately prescribed law is to be used.
8. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are paid journalists from Reuters. Therefore, action against the journalists should only be taken under media laws. It is wrong to take action under the Official Secrets Act.
9. A recent example is that the President suggested that action is taken under the Media Law against the three Eleven journalists who had been sued under the penal code section 505 (b).
The media review
1. In the media Ethics Section 3 (sub Section 1) published by the Myanmar Press Council, it says “It is a professional responsibility to publish or broadcast if media outlet receive leaked official and other content for example from politicians or civil servants is in the public interest and where they are legally allowed to do so. This Code supports that duty.”
2. Therefore, it was found that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo performed in accordance with media ethics and it was also found that they did not violate media ethics.
3. Both of them reported several factual stories about native Rakhine, Hindus, Muslims and other ethnic minorities getting killed based on the incidents which really happened out in the field for the sake of the public to access the information.
4. In this incident, it was also an attempt to send balanced information. Police Captain Moe Yan Naing also testified that they were set up and arrested while they were trying to include the comments of the police members who actually served in the region where the conflict took place. However, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, who testified the truth, was sentenced to one-year imprisonment according to the Police Force Maintenance of Discipline Law.
5. As journalists they were doing their duty by collecting different kinds of information from different places to present to the public, they might have information in different forms. That classified information, such as the itinerary of the pope and vice president and the business cards of the news sources were found with them, was a necessity of journalists’ work and it doesn’t violate the law.
6. Despite the fact that the information they obtained was not proven to breach the security of the nation, the court’s conviction reads, “The defendants are found to be in the situation of sending this security information to those (armed) organizations.”
7. We, media organizations, found that the most important fact is that there would be no such reporting unless the massacre happened. The fact that Myanmar lost its reputation among the countries of the world was not because of their reporting but because the massacre was committed.
Union Lawyers’ & Paralegals’ Association / Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network
Myanmar Journalist Network / Myanmar Journalist Network (Ayarwaddy) / Myae Latt Journalist Network
Southern Myanmar Journalist Network / Lashio Reporters Group / Taunggyi Journalist Association
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