Myanmar court refuses to dismiss charges against journalists

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A Myanmar court on Wednesday rejected a motion to drop a case against two Reuters journalists arrested months ago while reporting on the Rohingya crisis, pushing ahead with hearings that have sparked global outrage and fears of shrinking press freedoms.

Wa Lone, who's celebrating his 32nd birthday behind bars today, and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested last December while investigating the then-rumoured massacre of Rohingya Muslims in north-western Rakhine state and face charges of possessing secret government papers.

On Tuesday, Myanmar's military announced it had sentenced seven soldiers to 10 years in prison for their part in killings, a case covered by the two reporters, a development both referenced as they left court, contrasting the sentence the soldiers received to the maximum sentence they might receive. They also pointed out inconsistencies in the witnesses' testimonies and procedural violations made by police during the reporters' arrest.

The Reuters pair had been investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya men on September 2 in the Rakhine village of Inn Din that was carried out by security forces and local villagers.

The military's version of events is contradicted by accounts given to Reuters by Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses published in the February story.

The two journalists were arrested after they were invited to meet police officers for dinner in the north of Yangon.

"For the military personnel under the Military Act 71, four military personnel and three soldiers will be sentenced to ten years in prison with hard labour and to be permanently expelled from the army", the statement said.

One of his lawyers Than Zaw Aung also compared the cases.

At that same prior hearing, lead prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung countered that the defendants had been found in possession of secret government documents, that by obtaining them the journalists posed a threat to state security and the national interest, and that as such the defence's motion for a dismissal should be rejected.

Refugees arriving over the months since then have reported killings, burnings, looting and rape by members of the Myanmar security forces and Buddhist vigilantes.

Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said he was disappointed with the court's decision. I want them to be released as soon as possible. "We will continue to do all we can to secure their release".

The bloody incident in Inn Din village on 2 September is the only atrocity to which the military has admitted during its violent crackdown in northern Rakhine state, which has forced some 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border into Bangladesh since August a year ago.

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