Reuters reporters in Myanmar appeal against conviction in state secrets case

Wa Lone, above, Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty in September of breaking Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act after a trial at a Yangon district court. (Reuters)
Updated 05 November 2018
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Reuters reporters in Myanmar appeal against conviction in state secrets case

  • ‘We filed an appeal ... because the trial court’s ruling was wrong’
  • Defense lawyers filed the appeal on Monday morning at the Yangon-based High Court

YANGON: Lawyers for two Reuters reporters jailed for seven years in Myanmar lodged an appeal on Monday against their conviction on charges of breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act.
The appeal cited evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime.
“We filed an appeal ... because the trial court’s ruling was wrong,” said Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief, Stephen J. Adler in a statement. “In condemning them as spies, it ignored compelling evidence of a police set-up, serious due process violations, and the prosecution’s failure to prove any of the key elements of the crime.”
He added the court shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution to the Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and called on Myanmar to “uphold its stated dedication to rule of law, freedom of the press, and democracy by ordering the release of our colleagues.”
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were found guilty in September after a trial at a Yangon district court in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in September that the jailing of the reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression. In comments made the week after their conviction, she said they had been sentenced for handling official secrets and “were not jailed because they were journalists”.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay declined comment on the appeal.
Defense lawyers filed the appeal on Monday morning at the Yangon-based High Court. If the court rules to allow the appeal, an appellate judge would take written and oral arguments from prosecution and defense lawyers before handing down a decision.
Before their arrest, the reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during an army crackdown that began in August last year. The operation sent more than 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
During eight months of hearings, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified that two policemen they had not met before handed them papers rolled up in a newspaper during a meeting at a Yangon restaurant on Dec. 12. Almost immediately afterwards, they said, they were bundled into a car by plainclothes officers.
On Feb. 1, a police witness said under cross-examination that information in the documents had already been published in newspapers. In April, a prosecution witness testified that a senior officer had ordered subordinates to plant documents on Wa Lone to “trap” the reporter.


Arab News’ 44th anniversary: The year’s top headlines

Updated 20 April 2019
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Arab News’ 44th anniversary: The year’s top headlines

  • Arab News celebrates its 44th anniversary on Saturday
  • Throughout this year, Arab News has seen a significant increase in readership in the Kingdom and around the world

JEDDAH: Arab News celebrates its 44th anniversary on Saturday as the biggest English-language daily in the Kingdom with a fast-rising readership and a commitment to maintaining the quality journalism that has been a bedrock of the paper during its long history.
Throughout this year, Arab News has seen a significant increase in readership in the Kingdom and around the world, with new digital and print offerings, including the launch of the Pakistan edition, spearheading the newspaper’s global and digital expansion.

A series of online and print elements — including Road to 2030, The Face, The Space, The Case and The Startup — draws attention globally and nationally.

The collection of top headlines from the past year highlights a significant period in the newspaper's history.

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HEADLINE NUMBERS

- 2.4m — Pilgrims performed Hajj in 2018

- $50bn+ — Value of deals signed at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh

- $1.5bn — Annual revenue expected to be generated by KSA’s cinema industry by 2030

- 83 — Number of events held in different cities during Sharqiah Season

- 35% — Ratio of women working across Arab News’ global operations at the end of 2018

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From the exclusive interview of Egypt’s Pope Tawadros II to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh to the Winter at Tantora festival in Al-Ula, the past year has brought a string of major stories that have cemented the newspaper’s reputation for first-class journalism.

A look back at the Arab News coverage that made headlines this year.

Women driving
June 24, 2018: The General Directorate of Traffic issued driver’s licenses to 10 women after a royal decree issued by King Salman in September 2017 announced the end of a decades-long ban on women driving. An iconic image of a Saudi woman driving by New Yorker magazine illustrator Malika Favre, commissioned by Arab News for the cover of its souvenir edition on June 24, was shared around the world. The design won two Awards of Excellence at this year’s Society for News Design honors. The cover image was also recognized in the international design awards run by HOW magazine. The end of the driving ban is a historic move that sends a clear message to the world that changes in Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030 are real and significant.

Hajj coverage
August 19, 2018: As part of Arab News CSR initiatives, we gave out tens of thousands of umbrellas to protect pilgrims from the sun during Hajj season. An Arab News team also covered all the major days of Hajj, including Mina, Arafat and Mudalifah. A total of 2,371,675 pilgrims performed Hajj in 2018, according to the General Authority for Statistics. The pilgrims who came from outside Saudi Arabia numbered 1,758,722, while 612,953 came from inside the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia invited more than 800 foreign media representatives to cover Hajj events.

Future Investment Initiative
Oct. 23, 2018: At least 25 deals worth more than $50 billion in the energy and transportation sectors were signed at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh. The three-day event was attended by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Pakistani PM Imran Khan, as well as other leaders from the GCC and worldwide.

Pope Tawadros II
Dec. 4, 2018: In an exclusive interview with Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of Alexandria, Patriarch of the See of St. Mark and leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, described events in Syria and Iraq, with the rise of Daesh, as “very painful,” and pointed out that Christians who had to seek asylum abroad were among the most affected. However, his concerns extended beyond the plight of Christians alone, and he argued that a “weakening of Arab countries” means “the weakening of Arabs as a whole … Christians and Muslims alike.”

Formula E
Dec. 13, 2018: The mega Formula E event — held in the historic Saudi town of Ad Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site — revolutionized motorsports by using only electric race cars. Officially known as the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, the event was the first held in Saudi Arabia and the region, reflecting the Kingdom’s goal of hosting major events, and promoting them domestically and globally. The three-day event also hosted some of the world’s top entertainers, including Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, Amr Diab and One Republic. Thousands of fans attended the motorsports tournament, concerts, entertainment and cultural activities.

Winter at Tantora
Dec. 20, 2018: The northern Saudi city of Al-Ula hosted a special season of events and festivities, as the Royal Commission for the Governorate of Al-Ula organized Winter at Tantora. The cultural festival was designed to showcase the wonders of Al-Ula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the world. It included cultural events, a spectacular equine experience, and musical performances by some of the world’s greatest artists, such as Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli, Iraqi musicians Ilham Al-Madfai and Kazem Al-Saher, Bahrain’s Rashed Al-Majid and Iraqi artist Majed Al-Mohandes.

Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi
Feb. 3, 2019: It was a historic day in Abu Dhabi when Pope Francis became the first pontiff to visit a Gulf country. He was received by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. The papal visit included a tour of Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and an interfaith meeting with Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb. Later, Pope Francis said he returned home from a country that had risen from the desert in the hope that others could be equally successful. Tens of thousands of Christian and Muslims leaders gathered to hear a 25-minute homily delivered by the pope.

MBS Asia tour
Feb. 17, 2019: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s tour of Pakistan, India and China made headlines around the globe. Saudi authorities praised the outcome of the Pakistan leg of the trip, with deals worth $20 billion signed by the two nations. During his visit to India, Crown Prince Mohammed said that he expects Saudi Arabia’s investments in the country to be worth $100 billion in the next two years. The crown prince also witnessed the signing of agreements in investment, tourism, housing and information and broadcasting. In China, he met with Vice Premier Han Zheng and attended the China-Saudi cooperation forum. That was followed by a ceremony to sign agreements on petroleum, chemicals, investment, renewable energy and anti-terrorism.

50:50 by 2020
March 7, 2019: The Arab News newsroom philosophy is based on gender equality. The proportion of women working for the newspaper rose to more than a third in 2018, moving closer to the goal of a 50:50 gender-balanced newsroom by 2020, according to the Arab News “gender equality meter,” published in March. Arab News last year outlined its aim to become the first newspaper in Saudi Arabia to have a gender-balanced newsroom. The announcement was made at the opening of the inaugural Arab Women Forum at King Abdullah Economic City. The drive, referred to internally as the “50:50 by 2020” initiative, covers all the newspaper’s bureaus and areas of operation.

Sharqiah Season
March 14, 2019: The Sharqiah Season, a 17-day festival in Eastern Province cities, delivered extensive entertainment for both Saudis and visitors to the Kingdom. Key events included the Red Bull Air Race and the Formula 1 H20 boat event, as well as concerts by Akon, Deadmau5, Pitbull and French Montana.

First anniversary of cinemas
April 18, 2019: Arab News marked the first anniversary of cinemas opening in Saudi Arabia. As part of the country’s Vision 2030 program of reforms, Saudi Arabia lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas, paving the way for theater chains to unveil ambitious plans to open hundreds of cinemas across the nation in the next decade. The Saudi government announced that SR131 billion ($35 billion) will be invested in cinema and theater construction, mainly in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. The Kingdom’s cinema industry — which will serve a population of more than 32 million, most of whom are under the age of 30 — is expected to generate $1.5 billion in annual revenue by 2030.