Reuters reporters say deprived of sleep during Myanmar probe

Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo carries his daughter Moe Thin Wai Zin while escorted by police to lunch break during a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang

YANGON – Two Reuters reporters accused in Myanmar of possessing secret documents were subjected to sleep deprivation and asked if they were “spies” during police interrogations, their lawyers suggested during questions posed to a police witness on Monday.

Cross-examining Police Captain Myint Lwin at a court in Yangon, defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung asked if he was aware the two reporters were “not allowed to sleep” for three consecutive days during the initial police probe after their detention on Dec. 12.

He also asked the witness whether reporter Kyaw Soe Oo was “forced to kneel down” on the floor for more than three hours during questioning by investigators.

In what has become a landmark press freedom case, the court in Yangon has been holding hearings since January to decide whether Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, and his Reuters colleague Wa Lone, 32, will be charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The alleged offences carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Captain Myint Lwin, the officer in charge of the Yangon police station that conducted the preliminary inquiry after the pair were arrested, denied the reporters were deprived of sleep or made to kneel, saying officers were not allowed to “do such a thing” under his command.

He also denied, under cross-examination, that the reporters were sent to a specialist interrogation facility after their arrests, saying they were detained at the police station in northern Yangon until his team finalised the preliminary probe and handed the case to a police crime investigation unit on Dec. 26.

After the hearing, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo confirmed details of their treatment, telling reporters they had been questioned every two hours for about three days after their arrests by different officers, who asked if they were “spies”.

Wa Lone said it was “completely untrue” that they had remained in a regular police station.

“It is mental and physical torture,” a second defence lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters after Monday’s proceedings, adding that evidence gathered through such methods was unlawful and should not be presented to the court.

Prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung declined to comment at the end of the hearing.

Police spokesman Myo Thu Soe, contacted by telephone, said he was not aware of the matter and declined to comment.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay was not immediately available for comment after Monday’s hearing. Previously, he has declined to comment on the case or the conduct of the investigation, saying Myanmar’s courts are independent and the case would be conducted according to the law.

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