FDA identified 20 drugs with shortage risks due to coronavirus outbreak

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has contacted producers of about 20 drugs that either source all of their main ingredients from or are finished in China to gauge if they will face shortages due to the coronavirus outbreak.

None of the companies reported that a shortage is expected for their drugs due to the outbreak, an FDA spokeswoman said.

“We have been in contact with those firms to understand if they face any drug shortage risks due to the outbreak,” FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Caccomo said in a statement late on Monday. “None of these firms has reported any shortage to date.”

Caccomo did not identify any of the drugs or the companies.

She said the FDA has also reached out to more than 180 manufacturers to remind them of their requirement to notify the regulator of any expected supply disruptions.

U.S. officials raised concerns this week about the security of the U.S. drug supply chain in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in China, where a significant portion of the ingredients used to make prescription drugs is manufactured.

Around 88 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients used in drugs for the U.S. market were manufactured overseas in 2018, according to the FDA. About 14 percent of the API for U.S. drugs in that year were produced in China, the FDA said.

(Reporting by Michael Erman; Editing by Dan Grebler)

China warns Hong Kong protesters not to ‘play with fire’

A demonstrator throws a traffic cone at a group of people opposing the anti-government protesters, during a demonstration in support of the city-wide strike and to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – Protesters in Hong Kong must not “play with fire” and mistake Beijing’s restraint for weakness, China said on Tuesday in its sharpest rebuke yet of the “criminals” behind demonstrations in the city whom it vowed to bring to justice.

Hong Kong has suffered weeks of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law, which would have allowed suspects to be tried in mainland courts.

But the protests have swelled into a broader backlash against the government of the Asian financial hub, fueled by many residents’ fear of eroding freedoms under the increasingly tight control of the Communist Party in Beijing.

“I would like to warn all of the criminals: don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness,” the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a document issued during a briefing in Beijing.

A small group of violent radicals were at the forefront of the protests, with “some kind-hearted citizens who have been misguided and coerced to join,” according to the document attributed to two officials, Yang Guang and Xu Luying.

It said anti-China forces were the “behind-the-scenes masterminds” who had “openly and brazenly emboldened” the protesters.

“We would like to make clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: those who play with fire will perish by it,” the office said.

“At the end of the day, they will eventually be punished.”

China has been quick to label U.S. officials as “black hands” instigating unrest in Hong Kong in an attempt to contain China’s development, but it has not provided any concrete evidence.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Friday urged the Trump administration to suspend future sales of munitions and crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong police, which have been accused of using excessive force.

Police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters in the former British colony after a general strike hit transport and the city’s Beijing-backed leader, chief executive Carrie Lam, warned its prosperity was at risk.

The protests surpassed earlier shows of dissent in scale and intensity, seemingly stoked by Lam’s refusal once again to meet any of the protesters’ demands, including for her resignation and independent inquiries into police use of force.

The protests are the greatest political threat to Hong Kong’s government since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and one of the biggest popular challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

‘CIVILIZED POWER’

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Hong Kong has remained in barracks since the protests started in April, leaving Hong Kong’s police force to deal with the massive demonstrations.

Last week, the PLA garrison there issued a video showing “anti-riot” exercises, and its top brass warned violence is “absolutely impermissible”.

Diplomats and foreign security analysts are watching the situation closely, but believe there’s little appetite in Beijing for the PLA to be deployed on the streets of Hong Kong.

So far, the central government and the PLA have said only that there are clear provisions in law covering the prospect of the force’s intervention in the city.

During the briefing, Yang called the PLA “a strong force that defends every inch of its sacred territory”, and said the central government would not allow any “turbulence” beyond the control of the Hong Kong government to threaten national unity or security.

“The PLA is a force of power but also a civilized power,” Yang said.

“As long as it has the strong support of the central government and the Chinese people, the Hong Kong government and police “are fully capable of punishing those criminal activities and restoring public order and stability”, he said.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

U.S. says foreign meddling didn’t affect 2018 election systems

People fill out their ballots during the midterm election at Philomont Fire Station, in Purcellville, Virginia, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top U.S. officials said on Tuesday that foreign actors did not have a significant impact on computer systems and other equipment underpinning the November, 2018 congressional elections, despite reports of hacking attempts.

The statement by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security contrasted with U.S. officials’ view that the 2016 presidential election was the target of a sophisticated Russian hacking and propaganda campaign to help Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hilary Clinton.

The two agencies said the U.S. government has found no evidence that foreign governments or agents had an impact last November, when Democrats won control of the House of Representatives.

Neither political campaigns nor electronic voting machines or other infrastructure was significantly affected, they said in a joint statement. They declined to provide further details.

U.S. prosecutors are investigating whether President Donald Trump’s campaign worked with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election. Trump has denied any collusion, and Moscow has also denied involvement.

Security experts have warned for years that U.S. election infrastructure — voting machines, voter registries and other computer systems — could be manipulated to change vote tallies or prevent people from casting ballots.

The 2016 election also illustrated how hackers can compromise candidates by releasing internal emails and other sensitive documents, and by working to sway public opinion through social media.

Ahead of the November 2018 election, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials warned that foreign actors were continuing their manipulation efforts. Prosecutors charged a Russian national with participating in a Kremlin-backed plan to interfere in the election.

Some state and local governments reported attempts to access their networks ahead of the November 2018 election, but U.S. officials said they were able to prevent or limit access.

On the night of the Nov. 6 election, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said there were no signs that voting systems had been breached.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to elect Republican candidates, said it was the target of a hacking attempt last year. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, running for re-election in West Virginia, also said his social-media accounts had been hacked.

U.S. intelligence officials warned last week that Russia and China are already targeting the 2020 presidential election.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and David Gregorio)

Afghan Taliban call off peace talks with U.S. over ‘agenda differences’

FILE PHOTO: Taliban walk as they celebrate ceasefire in Ghanikhel district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan June 16, 2018.REUTERS/Parwiz

By Jibran Ahmad

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday they had called off peace talks with U.S. officials in Qatar this week due to an “agenda disagreement”, especially over the involvement of Afghan officials as well as a possible ceasefire and prisoner exchange.

Two days of peace talks had been set to start on Wednesday, Taliban officials told Reuters earlier, but the hardline Islamic militant group had refused to allow “puppet” Afghan officials to join.

The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.

“The U.S. officials insisted that the Taliban should meet the Afghan authorities in Qatar and both sides were in disagreement over declaring a ceasefire in 2019,” a Taliban source told Reuters.

“Both sides have agreed to not meet in Qatar.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said earlier the two sides were still working on the technical details and were not clear on the agenda for the talks.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the cancellation.

The talks, which would have been the fourth round with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, would have involved a U.S. withdrawal, prisoner exchange and the lifting of a ban on movement of Taliban leaders, a Taliban leader had told Reuters.

Taliban sources said that they had demanded U.S. authorities release 25,000 prisoners and they would free 3,000, but that U.S. officials were not keen to discuss the exchange at this stage.

“We would never announce any ceasefire until and unless we achieve major gains on the ground. We have the feeling that Zalmay Khalilzad doesn’t have enough power to make important decisions,” a second Taliban official said.

The Taliban said Khalilzad would visit the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China to continue the discussion. Khalilzad’s office was not available for comment.

The Taliban have rejected repeated requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the United States is their main adversary in the 17-year war.

The insurgents, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster by U.S.-led troops, called off a meeting with U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia this week because of Riyadh’s insistence on bringing the Western-backed Afghan government to the table.

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE took part in the last round of talks in December.

Western diplomats based in Kabul said Pakistan’s cooperation in the peace process will be crucial to its success. Independent security analysts and diplomats said the neighboring country’s powerful military has kept close ties with the Afghan Taliban.

U.S. officials have accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to Taliban militants in its border regions and using them as an arm of its foreign policy. Pakistan denies the claim.

The United States, which sent troops to Afghanistan in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and at the peak of the deployment had more than 100,000 troops in the country, withdrew most of its forces in 2014.

It keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding Afghan security forces and hunting militants.

Reports last month about U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan triggered uncertainty in Kabul which depends on the United States and other foreign powers for military support and training.

As peace talks gained momentum a draft agreement drawn up by the influential U.S. think tank RAND Corporation outlining the clauses for a potential peace deal was circulated among Afghan officials and diplomats in Kabul.

The document, reviewed by Reuters, suggests that the United States and NATO withdraw their military missions in phases over an expected period of 18 months. It adds that the United States may continue providing civilian assistance.

(Additonal reporting by James Mackenzie in Islamabad, Hamid Shalizi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain in Kabul; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Special Report: How Myanmar punished two reporters for uncovering an atrocity

Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo leave Insein court after listening to the verdict in Yangon, Myanmar September 3, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

By John Chalmers

YANGON (Reuters) – Time and again, Myanmar’s government appeared at risk of blowing its prosecution of two young journalists who had exposed a massacre of 10 Muslim men and implicated security forces in the killings.

On April 20, a prosecution witness revealed in pre-trial hearings that police planted military documents on Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in order to frame them for violating the country’s Official Secrets Act. That admission drew gasps from the courtroom.

A police officer told the court that he burned notes he made at the time of the reporters’ arrest but didn’t explain why. Several prosecution witnesses contradicted the police account of where the arrests took place. A police major conceded the “secret” information allegedly found on the reporters wasn’t actually a secret.

And outside the courtroom, military officials even admitted that the killings had indeed taken place.

These bombshells bolstered central assertions of the defense: The arrests were a “pre-planned and staged” effort to silence the truthful reporting of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

In the end, the holes in the case were not enough to stop the government from punishing the two reporters for revealing an ugly chapter in the history of Myanmar’s young democracy. On Monday, after 39 court appearances and 265 days of imprisonment, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty of breaching the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Yangon northern district judge Ye Lwin ruled that the two reporters had breached the secrets act when they collected and obtained confidential documents. Delivering his verdict in the small courtroom, he said it had been found that “confidential documents” discovered on the two would have been useful “to enemies of the state and terrorist organizations.”

After the verdict was delivered, Wa Lone told a cluster of friends and reporters not to worry. “We know we did nothing wrong,” he said, addressing reporters outside the courtroom. “I have no fear. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.”

The prosecution of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo has become a landmark press freedom case in Myanmar and a test of the nation’s transition to democratic governance since decades of rule by a military junta ended in 2011. The military, though, still controls key government ministries and is guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats, giving it much power in the fledgling democracy.

During the court hearings, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and leaders from several Western countries had called for the reporters’ release. After the verdict, Scot Marciel, the U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, said the ruling was “deeply troubling” for everybody who had struggled for media freedom in the country. “I’m sad for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their families, but also for Myanmar,” he said.

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said the two reporters had been convicted “without any evidence of wrongdoing and in the face of compelling evidence of a police set-up.” The verdict, he said, was “a major step backward in Myanmar’s transition to democracy.”

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not respond to requests for comment about the verdict.

FILE PHOTO: Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017. REUTERS/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017. REUTERS/File Photo

A week before the ruling, United Nations investigators said in a report that Myanmar’s military had carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent,” and that the commander-in-chief and five generals should be punished. The report also accused the government of Aung San Suu Kyi of contributing to “the commission of atrocity crimes” by failing to shield minorities from crimes against humanity and war crimes. Myanmar has rejected the findings.

Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader who spent some 15 years under house arrest during the junta era, has made few public statements about the case. In a rare comment in June, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the reporters weren’t arrested for covering the violence in western Myanmar. “They were arrested because they broke the Official Secrets Act,” she said.

The act dates back to 1923, when Myanmar – then known as Burma – was under British rule. The charge against the reporters carried a maximum sentence of 14 years. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty under Section 3.1 (c) of the act, which covers obtaining secret official documentation that “might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy.”

At the time of their arrest in December, Wa Lone, now 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, now 28, were working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers during an army crackdown in Rakhine State in the west of the country. The violence has sent more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, where they now live in vast refugee camps.

The United States has accused the government of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who are widely reviled in this majority-Buddhist country. Myanmar says its operations in Rakhine were a legitimate response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya insurgents.

Reuters published its investigation into the massacre on Feb. 8. An account of the killing of eight men and two high school students in September in the village of Inn Din, the report prompted international demands for a credible probe into the wider bloodshed in Rakhine.

The story and its accompanying photographs provided the first independent confirmation of what took place at Inn Din. Two of the photos obtained by the reporters show the men kneeling, in one with their hands behind their necks and in a second with their hands tied behind their backs. A third picture shows their bodies, some apparently with bullet wounds, others with gashes, in a blood-stained, shallow grave.

SLEEP DEPRIVED

The prosecution of the reporters put Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, in the glare of an uncomfortable global spotlight. Hailed as a champion of democracy for standing up to the junta, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010. Her party won a general election in 2015 and formed Myanmar’s first civilian government in more than half a century in early 2016. Her cabinet includes three generals, however; in a speech last month, she called these military men “all rather sweet.”

Earlier this year, veteran U.S. politician Bill Richardson said Suu Kyi was “furious” with him when he raised the case of the Reuters journalists with her. Richardson, a former Clinton administration cabinet member, resigned in January from an international panel set up by Myanmar to advise on the Rohingya crisis, saying the body was conducting a “whitewash” and accusing Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership.” Suu Kyi’s office said at the time that Richardson was “pursuing his own agenda” and had been asked to step down.

As leader of the opposition, Suu Kyi had criticized the junta’s treatment of journalists. In 2014, she reportedly described as “very excessive” a prison sentence of 10 years with hard labor handed down to four local journalists and their boss. They were found guilty of trespassing and violating the Official Secrets Act, the same law used to prosecute the Reuters reporters. “While there are claims of democratic reform, this is questionable when the rights of journalists are being controlled,” the local Irrawaddy newspaper quoted her as telling reporters in July 2014.

A government spokesman did not answer calls by Reuters seeking comment on Suu Kyi’s statement.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on the evening of Dec. 12. During hours of testimony in July, they described that night and the interrogations that followed. They told the court that their heads were covered with black hoods when they were transported to a police interrogation site. They testified they were deprived of sleep for three days during their grillings. At one point, Kyaw Soe Oo said, he was punished and made to kneel on the floor for at least three hours. A police witness denied that the reporters were deprived of sleep and that Kyaw Soe Oo was forced to kneel.

Describing the night of their arrest, Wa Lone said he and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained almost immediately after being handed some documents at a restaurant by a police lance corporal he had been trying to interview for the massacre story. The policeman had invited Wa Lone to meet and Kyaw Soe Oo accompanied him, Wa Lone testified.

When the two reporters exited the restaurant, they were grabbed by men in plain clothes, handcuffed and shoved into separate vehicles, they both testified. As they were driven to a police station, Wa Lone recalled in court, a man who appeared to be in charge called a senior officer and told him: “We’ve got them, sir.”

The interrogation centered on the journalists’ reporting and their discovery of the massacre, not on the allegedly secret state documents, Wa Lone told the court. One officer, he said, offered “possible negotiations” if the massacre story wasn’t published. Wa Lone said he rejected the overture.

At one point, Wa Lone testified, the police chastised him for reporting on the Rohingya. “You are both Buddhists. Why are you writing about ‘kalars’ at a time like this? They aren’t citizens,” Wa Lone recalled being told. ‘Kalar’ is a slur widely used in Myanmar to describe Muslims, especially Rohingya and people of South Asian origin.

It was two weeks from the time of their arrest before Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were allowed contact with their families and lawyers.

In late December, they were sent to Yangon’s Insein Prison, a colonial-era building that became an emblem of the former military junta’s repressive rule. For decades, dissidents were held alongside murderers, thieves and drug dealers. Suu Kyi spent a brief period there.

“I found out my cell was built in 1865. It was used for the prisoners before they were killed,” Wa Lone told a colleague before one court hearing, amused to have discovered he was living on a Victorian-era death row.

THUMBS-UP SIGN

The first hearing came on Dec. 27, which was overcast with a few specks of drizzle. Some reporters had gathered outside the courthouse before dawn in case police tried to rush through the proceedings. Many from local media wore black T-shirts in solidarity with the Reuters reporters.

Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, mouthed quiet prayers between interviews with journalists. Kyaw Soe Oo’s sister, Nyo Nyo Aye, kept near her side, barely speaking.

When a white Toyota police van swung into the yard, Pan Ei Mon and Nyo Nyo Aye pushed through scrambling photographers and hugged the two men as they were led into the courthouse. Within minutes, the court extended their remand for 14 days. An application for bail was refused on Feb. 1.

After that, the two reporters were put in a pick-up truck almost weekly to make the roughly half-kilometer journey to Yangon’s Northern District Court, a dilapidated two storey red-brick building. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo would arrive at court handcuffed. Holding his hands clenched and at chest-level, Wa Lone looked like a boxer entering a ring, smiling and giving a thumbs-up sign for the cameras.

If there was a break in proceedings, the men were allowed to join their families in a side room, where they were fed and hugged. Kyaw Soe Oo’s daughter, Moe Thin Wai Zan, now three, would cling to her father. From time to time, he carefully lowered his handcuffs over her head and peppered her face with kisses.

Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, sat as close to her husband as she could during the hearings. She gave birth to a girl, the couple’s first child, on Aug. 10.

The courtroom could hold around 40 people and was invariably packed with family, friends, reporters and foreign diplomats. Sparrows flitted through gaps above the saloon-style doors and nested in the rafters; a cat sometimes wandered through the court. From a nearby room sounded the clacking of an old-fashioned typewriter. Power cuts were routine, and during the humid summer, the room warmed quickly as the single ceiling fan slowed to a halt. In a familiar drill, a court official would hustle spectators aside to fetch a generator and lug it into a hallway, where it chugged until the session was over.

Flanked by policemen, Wa Lone would often make an impassioned statement to the media outside court after hearings. On the day the court charged the reporters, he raised his voice and spoke quickly: “For us, no matter what, we won’t retreat, give up or be shaken by this. I would like to say that injustice will never defeat us.”

Police said Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were caught in Yangon with secret information about the operations of security forces in Rakhine, the state where the Inn Din massacre took place. The reporters, they said, were detained after being searched at a traffic checkpoint by officers who didn’t know they were journalists.

But early in the proceedings, the police version of events began to fray. At a hearing on Feb. 1, a police major, who led the team of arresting officers, conceded that the information in the documents had already been published in newspaper reports. It was one of many inconsistencies to surface during testimony from the 22 witnesses called by the prosecution.

The precise location and circumstances surrounding the arrests emerged as a key point of contention in court. The police said the reporters were stopped and searched at a traffic checkpoint at the junction of Main Road No. 3 and Nilar Road by officers who were unaware they were journalists – not at a restaurant, as Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified.

One prosecution witness, civilian official Kyaw Shein, supported the police on the location of the arrests. Then, in a moment of courtroom drama, defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung reached through the wooden bars of the witness stand and turned over Kyaw Shein’s left hand, which the witness had been glancing at while giving testimony. On it were written the words “Thet Oo Maung” – the official name of Wa Lone – and below it, “No. 3 Road and Nilar Road junction.” (It is common for people in Myanmar to use more than one name, as Wa Lone does.)

Asked if someone had told him to write down the address where police say the arrest took place, Kyaw Shein said no. He wrote on his hand because he was “forgetful,” he said.

‘ENTRAP HIM AND ARREST HIM’

On April 10, in a move that acknowledged the truth of the Reuters report on the Inn Din massacre, the army announced that seven soldiers had been sentenced to “10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area” for participating in the killings.

Ten days later, the state’s case against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo appeared to suffer a setback when the court heard the reporters’ version of events – astonishingly, from a prosecution witness. They had in fact been arrested as they left a restaurant still holding in their hands documents they had just been given by police officers as part of a plan to ensnare them, said Captain Moe Yan Naing of the paramilitary 8th Security Police Battalion.

Before the reporters were arrested, Wa Lone had interviewed several members of Battalion 8 about the army crackdown in Rakhine. At least three police officers told him that the unit supported military operations there.

Moe Yan Naing testified that he was interviewed by Wa Lone in November, and had himself been under arrest since the night of Dec. 12. Earlier that day, he said, he had been taken to Battalion 8’s headquarters on the northern edges of Yangon. When he arrived, he said, he found himself among a group of several policemen who were believed to have given interviews to Wa Lone. They were interrogated about their interactions with the Reuters reporter.

Moe Yan Naing told the court that police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko, who led an internal probe into what the reporters had been told, ordered an officer to arrange a meeting with Wa Lone that night and hand over “secret documents from Battalion 8.”

Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko gave the documents to a police lance corporal “and told him to give them to Wa Lone,” Moe Yan Naing testified. When Wa Lone left the restaurant, the general continued, the local police were to “entrap him and arrest him,” according to Moe Yan Naing. He told the court he witnessed Tin Ko Ko giving these orders.

“Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko told the police members, ‘If you don’t get Wa Lone, you will go to jail’,” Moe Yan Naing said.

“This officer spoke based on his own feelings,” police spokesman Colonel Myo Thu Soe told Reuters, referring to Moe Yan Naing.

In the days following his testimony, Moe Yan Naing’s wife and three children were evicted from police housing in the capital city of Naypyitaw, and he was sentenced to one year in prison for violating the Police Disciplinary Act by having contact with Wa Lone. The prosecution sought to have Moe Yan Naing declared an unreliable witness. Nevertheless, Judge Ye Lwin declared he was credible. The captain returned to court two weeks later – this time in shackles and wearing a dark blue prison uniform – to give further testimony.

A police lance corporal, who met the reporters in the restaurant moments before they were arrested, contradicted Moe Yan Naing’s account of a set-up operation. Naing Lin, the lance corporal, denied giving the Reuters reporters secret documents to incriminate them. He also denied calling Wa Lone to invite him to a meeting on Dec. 12. During cross-examination, though, defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said phone records showed that Naing Lin had called the journalist three times on that day.

In the end, the defense’s ability to punch holes in the prosecution’s case proved to be insufficient ammunition. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s exposure of atrocities against a despised minority had put them on a collision course with Aung San Suu Kyi, the generals and their nation’s Buddhist majority.

(Edited by Peter Hirschberg and Michael Williams.)

Was Orlando massacre a possible self hate crime?

University of the Philippines students hold lit candles and placards as a tribute to those killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando,

By Letitia Stein and Peter Eisler

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement officials are investigating reports that the man who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando may have been gay himself, but not openly so, two officials said on Tuesday, with one describing the massacre as a possible “self-hate crime.”

Omar Mateen, who was shot dead by police after a three-hour standoff early on Sunday, left behind a tangled trail of possible motives. He also called police during his rampage to voice allegiance to various militant Islamist groups.

Federal investigators have said Mateen was likely self-radicalized and there is no evidence that he received any instruction or aid from outside groups such as Islamic State. Mateen, 29, was a U.S. citizen, born in New York of Afghan immigrant parents.

Mateen’s wife attempted to talk him out of the attack, MSNBC reported on Tuesday, citing officials familiar with her comments to the FBI.

President Barack Obama has called the attack a case of “homegrown extremism.” He has also called it both a terrorist act and a hate crime – or one targeting a specific community.

The attack on the Pulse nightclub in the central Florida city was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and the worst attack on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Soon after the attack, Mateen’s father indicated that his son had harbored strong anti-gay feelings. He recounted an incident when his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in downtown Miami while out with his wife and young son.

‘I’M DEAD’

Angel Colon, who was in Pulse with friends at the time of Mateen’s attack, described hearing gunfire and falling to the floor, shot in the left leg.

“I couldn’t walk at all,” Colon told a news conference at Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he is one of 27 survivors being treated. “All I could do was lay down. People were running over me.”

Colon said he had a hopeful moment when Mateen went into a bathroom – where he later took hostages – but the gunman then emerged, systematically making his way through the club shooting people who were already down, apparently to ensure they were dead.

“I look over and he shoots the girl next to me and I was just there laying down and thinking, ‘I’m next, I’m dead,” Colon said.

Mateen shot him twice more, one bullet apparently aimed for Colon’s head striking his hand, and another hitting his hip, Colon recalled.

“I had no reaction, I was just prepared to stay there laying down so he wouldn’t know I was alive,” Colon said. When police drove Mateen back into a restroom, an officer dragged Colon to safety, he said.

The investigation into the possibility that Mateen, who worked as a security guard at a gated retirement community, may have been gay follows media reports citing men who said they were regulars at the club and saw Mateen there before the attack. However, another source who spoke with Reuters disputed the idea that Mateen was a regular visitor to Pulse.

Visiting a gay club in and of itself would say nothing about Mateen’s sexuality, as he could have a variety of reasons for such a visit.

MARTYRDOM MOTIVE?

The two U.S. officials, both of whom have been briefed regularly on the investigation and requested anonymity to discuss it, said that if it emerged that Mateen led a secret double life or had gay impulses that conflicted with his religious beliefs, it might have been what the same official called “one factor” in explaining his motive.

“It’s far too early to be definitive, and some leads inevitably don’t pan out, but we have to consider at least the possibility that he might have sought martyrdom partly to gain absolution for what he believed were his grave sins,” one of the officials said.

The official noted that the concept of martyrdom is not confined to Islam, as Christians also venerate martyrs who died for their beliefs.

A performer at Orlando’s Parliament House, another gay club, said he had seen Mateen at Pulse occasionally before his rampage, often accompanied by a male friend. He had not seen Mateen in about two years, he said.

“He always introduced himself as Omar,” said the performer, Ty Smith, who uses the stage name Aries. He said Mateen usually was quiet but sometimes showed flashes of temper.

“He was fine most of the time but other times, if he was drinking, he’d go all spastic and we’d have to take him out to his car and make him leave.”

But a bartender who worked at a club affiliated with Pulse and who visited the club on his nights off said it was not true Mateen had been a regular visitor.

“That’s a lie,” Raymond Michael Sharpe said in a text message. “I would have known him. Somebody stirring the pot. No one knew him.”

SUPPORT FOR MILITANT GROUPS

During his rampage, Mateen made a series of calls to emergency 911 dispatchers in which he pledged loyalty to the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose organization controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

He also claimed solidarity in those calls with the ethnic Chechen brothers who carried out the deadly 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and with a Palestinian-American who became a suicide bomber in Syria for the al Qaeda offshoot known as the Nusra Front, authorities said.

Mateen was interviewed in 2013 and 2014 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the first time after co-workers reported that he had made claims of family connections to al Qaeda and membership in the Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, according to the FBI.

Federal investigators found no evidence connecting him to militant groups, FBI Director James Comey told reporters on Monday, noting contradictions in some of Mateen’s claims of allegiance.

Islamic State and the Nusra Front are at odds in Syria’s civil war, while al Qaeda and Hezbollah are also bitter enemies.

Islamic State reiterated on Monday a claim of responsibility, although it offered no signs to indicate coordination with the gunman.

Comey said the FBI closed its earlier investigation of Mateen after 10 months, convinced that his assertions of extremist ties were intended to “freak out” co-workers who he said were harassing him for being a Muslim.

Removal of Mateen from the FBI’s watch list at that time permitted him to buy firearms without the FBI being notified, Comey said.

The Orlando killings came six months after the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, by a married couple professing Islamist militant ideologies, raising questions about what the United States can do to detect such attackers before they strike.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott in Washington, Barbara Liston in Orlando, Yara Bayoumy in Fort Pierce, Florida and Zachary Fagenson in Port St. Lucie, Floridal; Writing by Steve Gorman and Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry)