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Myanmar police withholding evidence from Reuters journalists’ phones: Lawyers

(News Desk) – The lawyers for two Reuters journalists jailed by Myanmar say data that could support the defense of the reporters has not been included in phone evidence submitted to a court by police.

Defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said during a Monday hearing that some crucial files, including communication records from the journalists’ phones before their detention on December 12, were not included in a report of the data that police say was extracted from the devices and that were accepted as evidence by the court last month.

He asked the court to instruct the prosecution to submit more details, saying the additional files would help the “truth and justice.”

However, Magistrate Ye Lwin rejected the lawyer’s request, saying further details were not necessary because a police IT expert had previously revealed how the files were extracted “systematically” from the reporters’ phones.

The journalists, Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were on assignment for Reuters to cover deadly state-sponsored violence against minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar before they were arrested last December.

They were nabbed during a meeting with two police officials over dinner for “possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine state and security forces.”

The journalists say they were set up by police because of their work.

Earlier this year, they were officially charged for breaching a colonial-era law. The charges brought against them could carry a penalty of up to 14 years behind bars.

Whether Wa was called by police to arrange a meeting or phoned them himself in the hours before the journalists were arrested has been a contested point at prior hearings.

Prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung told the court the phones’ call logs were not relevant to the case.

Another defense lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said after the Monday hearing that the defense believed “evidence which is beneficial to the defense has not been fully disclosed by the prosecution.”

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday.

The Myanmarese military and Buddhist mobs have — with the tacit consent of the government — been cracking down on the ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State since late 2016.

The military has blocked the coverage of the crackdown in Rakhine.

Several thousand Muslim shave been killed arbitrarily. Many have been raped and wounded.

The United Nations says nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since last August.

The villages they left behind have been razed by Myanmar, and new encampments have been set up for Buddhist populations shuttled in from elsewhere in the country, both effectively clearing evidence of crimes and making the return of the Muslims impossible.

The UN has described the violence by Myanmar as constituting ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide.

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