A Myanmar judge has turned down the prosecution's request to declare a police officer who described his role in a plot to entrap two Reuters journalists as a “hostile” witness, in a case that continues to attract international attention.
“It will have a huge impact because, from being a hostile witness, now they're going to consider his statements,” defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters following the hearing.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, face up to 14 years in prison if convicted under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
The prosecution had been hoping to call into question the latest testimony based on a statement given under detention by Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, who was taken into custody only hours after the Reuters journalists on December 12 and has been jailed ever since.
Now, it will be the defence team's turn to cross-examine the witness who detailed a plot implicating Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko – a senior officer leading an internal probe into the matter of alleged “secret documents” – as the architect of a botched setup that took place at a Yangon restaurant.
The journalists were arrested following their work for Reuters investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in the village of Inn Din in western Myanmar's Rakhine State amid a military crackdown that has sent nearly 700,000 people fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh.
After recently being moved to Insein Prison and sentenced under the Police Disciplinary Act to an undisclosed prison term – reasons given for Moe Yan Naing not being able to appear in Wednesday's court hearing – there are lingering concerns about the safety of the defence's pivotal witness.
“Since he first gave his statement we are worried about him, but I think nobody can touch Moe Yan Naing easily because all the world's eyes are watching,” said Khin Maung Zaw.
While further details could emerge when the defence has the chance to cross-examine Moe Yan Naing in next week's hearing scheduled for May 9, how the remaining seven prosecution witnesses will shape the case that has kept the Reuters journalists behind bars for more than 140 days remains to be seen.
“The more you dig, the more you find. The more hearings they make, the facts will come out,” said Khin Maung Zaw.