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Myanmar whistleblower who said Reuters reporters were framed freed from prison

Posted at 11:14 PM, Jan 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-01 01:14:16-05

The Myanmar police captain who shocked a Yangon court by claiming he witnessed a plot by senior police to frame the two imprisoned Reuters journalists has been released from prison.

Captain Yan Moe Naing was sentenced to a year in prison for violating a law governing police actions after he publicly said Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been set up by police.

The two Reuters journalists are currently serving a seven year sentence for breaking the colonial era Official Secrets Act while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims, a case that cast a pall over Myanmar’s media community, and sparked increased international criticism of the country’s de facto leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Asked how he felt about the two journalists still behind bars as he left Yangon’s Insein prison on Friday, Yan Moe Naing told reporters, “I feel sorry for them.”

He also used the opportunity to call for a reform of the country’s Police Disciplinary Act, under which he was prosecuted for whistleblowing.

“All my life as a policeman I never broke police disciplinary laws. But they say I broke it, it is because the law is not standardized. This law causes members of the police to suffer. That is why I think the police disciplinary law must be amended while we are marching on the path toward democracy,” he said.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were originally detained in December 2017 during an investigation which helped uncover the killing of 10 Rohingya men in the western state of Rakhine. It served as evidence of Myanmar military abuses against Rohingya civilians there, despite repeated denials from the army and the government.

The killings they investigated were part of a campaign of rape, arson and murder which the military unleashed on the persecuted minority in August 2017, and which led to more than 720,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh. A UN fact-finding mission has called for several top generals to face charges of genocide over the crackdown.

The two journalists’ reporting did not sit well with the military leaders, who paraded them through a trial which human rights lawyer Amal Clooney declared a “sham” and “a miscarriage of justice.”

They were charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act, a rarely-used colonial-era law, for possessing documents relating to the massacre.

Yan Moe Naing testified in court at the time of their trial that a senior police officer had ordered another officer to meet Wa Lone in a restaurant and plant documents on him, according to Reuters.

The pair, who have always maintained their innocence, lost their appeal in January after they were sentenced to seven years in September.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Kyaw Soe Oo said after their sentencing, though he added he was “not exactly shocked by the verdict.”

Stephen J. Adler, Editor-in-Chief of Reuters, said in a statement at the time that the ruling was “yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.”

“They remain behind bars for one reason. Those in power sought to silence the truth. Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar’s commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt,” he said.