Wa Lone was arrested on December 12, 2017, with his Reuters colleague Kyaw Soe Oo after meeting with police officials for dinner in Yangon, the country’s commercial capital, Reuters reported.
The Reuters reporters were arrested almost immediately after being handed documents by police who said the reporters could review them at their homes, news reports said.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were later charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, an anti-state provision that carries maximum 14-year prison penalties, for possessing supposedly secret documents sensitive to national security.
During a pre-trial hearing in April 2018, prosecution witness police captain Moe Yan Naing testified that the two journalists were set up with the documents in a “trap” on the orders of police brigadier general Tin Ko Ko, according to Reuters and other news reports.
Both Wa Lone and Kyaw Saw Oo were working on a Reuters investigation into the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys at Inn Din village in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, the site of an army crackdown beginning in August 2017 that drove over 700,000 refugees from Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh.
On September 3, in a landmark decision, a Myanmar court sentenced Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone to seven years each in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act, Reuters reported. The judgement was roundly condemned by rights groups and diplomats as politicized and a severe blow to press freedom.
The reporters’ defense attorney, Khin Maung Zaw, said after the verdict that both reporters would appeal the ruling, according to a live Reuters feed outside of the court after the ruling monitored by CPJ.
In lodging the appeal in early November, Reuters Editor-in-Chief (and CPJ board member) Stephen Adler said the trial court’s ruling was wrong. “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 key elements of the crime,” Adler said, according to Reuters.
That same month, Myanmar’s High Court allowed the appeal to proceed, Reuters reported.
Both reporters were held in pre-trial detention in Yangon’s Insein Prison following their initial arrest in December 2017 and were repeatedly denied bail before their trial. They were both being held at Yangon’s Insein Prison in late 2018, according to Reuters.