YANGON • A judge yesterday rejected a request for the dismissal of a case against two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar after being accused of possessing secret government papers.
A court in Yangon has been holding preliminary hearings since January to decide whether Wa Lone, who turned 32 yesterday, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, will be charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
Judge Ye Lwin said there was "a proper reason" for the accusations against the two reporters and therefore "they should not be released".
The judge also said he wanted to hear the eight remaining prosecution witnesses out of the 25 listed, according to the reporters' defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw. The next hearing will take place on April 20.
The reporters' lawyers had argued that the prosecution witnesses' testimony was insufficient to charge the pair. They also said there were inconsistencies in the testimony and procedural mistakes made by the authorities during the arrest and subsequent searches.
Lead prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung had argued against the dismissal of the case, reiterating the position that the documents the police say the reporters had in their possession were secret and that the court could assume they intended to harm the security of the country.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been in custody since their arrests on Dec 12.
Yesterday's hearing drew one of the largest crowds of diplomats and journalists since the start of the proceedings. The courtroom was packed, with diplomats from France, the European Union, the United States and Japan among those attending.
The two Reuters journalists had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in the village of Inn Din, in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, during an army crackdown that has sent nearly 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
Seven Myanmar soldiers have been sentenced to "10 years in prison with hard labour in a remote area" for participating in the massacre, the army said on Tuesday.