Myanmar: officials must drop charges against Reuters journalists
Today the ICJ called on Myanmar’s prosecutorial authorities to immediately end the prosecution of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
The two have been subject to prosecution solely for doing their job as journalists and for exposing human rights violations in Rakhine State, including unlawful killings in Inn Dinn Village admitted to by the military.
In Yangon this morning a Northern District Court Judge accepted charges filed under the 1923 Official Secrets Act.
This decision permits ongoing prosecution of the journalists and extends their detention.
“The prosecution has failed to provide credible evidence of any wrongdoing throughout six months of hearings. It is therefore hard to imagine a valid legal rationale for allowing ongoing prosecution of the journalists,” said Mr Sean Bain, legal adviser for the ICJ in Yangon.
Section 253(1) of Myanmar’s Code of Criminal Procedure requires a judge to dismiss charges against accused persons if the evidence presented fails to warrant a conviction.
A motion for charges to be dismissed on this basis, submitted by defense lawyers, was effectively rejected by the decision today.
“Today’s decision raises real concerns about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and prosecution when confronted with politically sensitive cases,” Bain said.
“The case significantly undermines the government’s stated commitments to reforming and building public confidence in judicial process,” he added.
ICJ legal advisers have monitored the case and were present in Court today. The journalists were first detained on 12 December 2017 and had no access to legal representation for almost two weeks.
“The case is also emblematic of the lack of adherence to fair trial rights in Myanmar,” Bain said.
“Their confinement remains unlawful given an initial period of incommunicado detention without access to lawyers, and other flagrant violations of the fair trial rights guaranteed in the Constitution, statues and international law.”
“Authorities should immediately end criminal proceedings against these men who appear to have been lawfully doing their job as investigative journalists,” he added.
The detention and prosecution of anyone, including journalists, based solely on the collection and publication of evidence relevant to serious human rights violations, is inconsistent with international law and standards on freedom of expression and on human rights defenders.
Article 14 of the 1990 UN Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors states that prosecutors are obliged to discontinue prosecution when the investigation shows the charges to be unfounded.
Myanmar’s new Code of Ethics for Law Officers, launched in 2017, requires prosecutors to protect rights enshrined in the Constitution and to “provide a proper and fair administration of justice.”
The right to legal counsel is a bedrock rule of law principle that is set out in a range of international human rights laws and standards, including in article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sections 19 and 375 of the Myanmar Constitution guarantee the right of legal defense, as does Myanmar’s Code of Criminal Procedure (section 340), Courts Manual (section 455(1)), the Police Manual (section 1198c) and the Prisons Act (section 40).
Fair trial rights, freedom of expression, and the right to liberty are also recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Also relevant are the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (The Tshwane Principles).
Sean Bain, ICJ legal adviser, e: sean.bain(a)icj.org
ICJ (May 2016), Handbook on Habeas Corpus in Myanmar – English and Burmese
ICJ (December 2017), Reuters Journalists in Myanmar: respect their rights, end their incommunicado detention – English and Burmese
Full text in Burmese (PDF): Myanmar-drop-charges-against-Reuters-journalists-News-Press-releases-2018-BURNews