Deputy police major Moe Yan Naing, called as a prosecution witness earlier this month in a pre-trial hearing against the journalists, stunned the courtroom when he alleged a senior officer had ordered colleagues to “get” reporter Wa Lone by handing him sensitive files.
The 32-year-old Myanmar journalist and his colleague Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, face up to 14 years in prison on charges of possessing classified documents relating to security operations in Rakhine state, where the military is accused of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.
They have been detained since they were arrested in December after meeting with police, in a case that has drawn intense global attention.
According to a police spokesman, Moe Yan Naing has been jailed for breaching a police disciplinary act, a charge he had been facing since December for his previous communication with Wa Lone.
Police sources said he was sentenced before he gave his shock testimony – an extremely rare instance of a security official openly challenging superiors in the formerly junta-run country.
“He was sentenced because he told others about information concerned with the police force without permission,” Pol Col Myo Thu Soe said, declining to say when the verdict was reached or how long his jail term was.
“He was found to have breached the police disciplinary act,” he added.
Moe Yan Naing’s wife said she was informed of her husband’s sentencing yesterday night (Apr 29).
“The police told me yesterday (Sunday) evening that he had been sent to Insein prison to face a year-long sentence,” Tu Tu said through tears.
After he testified on April 20 the defence quickly expressed fears for his safety, while the prosecution filed a motion to declare him a “hostile witness”.
Within 24 hours Tu Tu and her children were evicted from their police housing in the capital Naypyidaw.
A police spokesman denied any connection between the two events, saying it was a “coincidence”.
The case against the Reuters reporters compounded fears about slipping press freedoms in Myanmar, a fledgling democracy riven with ethnic conflicts.
At the time of their arrests the reporters were investigating security officers’ roles in the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya men in northern Rakhine, the site of an army crackdown that the UN says amounts to ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority.
The military has overwhelmingly denied allegations of atrocities but did concede that security officers took part in the killings reported by Reuters – a rare admission of guilt made after the journalists were arrested.
Some 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since the army-led campaign was launched last August, ostensibly to combat Rohingya insurgents.
The stateless group has faced decades of systematic discrimination and persecution in mainly Buddhist Myanmar.