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Colleagues, lawyers hope for release of jailed journalists

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Colleagues and Lawyers for the two journalists from Reuters news agency expressed hope that President-elect U Win Myint will take notice of their case and release them soon.

“The new president is also a lawyers and lawmaker as he was a speaker of the parliament. We are looking for good news about Myanmar’s laws and regulations during his time in office” said U Khin Mg Shwe, one of the lawyers of Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27.

U Kyaw Nyein of the Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network expressed hope that the two journalists would be among the prisoners who would be freed as part of a tradition of granting amnesty to some prisoners when a new leader is elected.

“I think some prisoners will be released as part of a tradition of honouring newly elected presidents,” he told The Myanmar Times on Thursday.

Lynn Satt Aung, the video journalist of Democratic Voice of Burma, was more optimistic about the prospect of freedom for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

“I think Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will be released before the Thingyan festival holidays, as a new president has been elected,” he said.

“The new president, U Win Myint, is very close with the media and he understands the important role of Myanmar media,” he added.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo expressed hope President U Win Myint would give media more freedom in doing their job.

“I hope the new president will improve media freedom in Myanmar and we sincerely ask him to do it as it is essential in Myanmar,” Wa Lone told reporters after their court hearing on Wednesday.

The two, who are facing a possible 14 years’ imprisonment for possession of classified documents, formally asked the court during Wednesday’s hearing to withdraw the charges against them

Lawyer U Than Zaw Aung, another defence lawyer, said the court was set to decide on their petition on April 4.

He said all 17 witnesses who have testified in court could not present evidence or facts that would prove the two accused are guilty of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

“All the witnesses have testified, and there is still no evidence to support the charges under the Official Secrets Act against them, so we asked for withdrawal of the charges,” he said.

Prior to the application for withdrawal by the defence, the court listened to the testimony of three more witnesses who are employees of the East Hotel, where the accused Kyaw Soe Oo stayed before he was arrested in December.

There are two ways to apply motion for withdrawal of charges: after all witnesses have testified but before the accused is indicted or before the witnesses testify in court.

The witnesses said that the police searched the hotel room of Kyaw Soe Oo without showing them a search warrant, and the police called the witnesses by phone to testify in court without providing them official court summons, he added.

“Some of the actions of the police violated the privacy rights of Myanmar citizens,” U Than Zaw Aung said.

The duo was arrested on December 12 on the outskirts of Yangon after meeting with two police sources who handed them the allegedly classified documents.

Among the documents allegedly recovered in their possession were details of police strength and weapons and the disposition of security forces in northern Rakhine State.

At the time of their arrest, the two were on assignment for Reuters to investigate Inn Din, a village in Rakhine that was allegedly torched and pillaged by government security forces.

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