RANGOON — Four journalists and a publisher of Rangoon-based Bi Mon Te Nay weekly journal have been denied bail, as they continue to fight allegations of state sedition in court.
The Pabedon Township court on Thursday rejected the application for bail as premature, saying that relevant witnesses had not yet been questioned—a precondition for granting bail in sedition cases, lawyers say. The five defendants have been detained in Rangoon’s Insein Prison since last month after their journal published an article that angered the government.
Aye Cho, a senior lawyer who is unrelated to the case, said bail cannot be granted to anyone charged of sedition under Article 505. “There are cases where the court can allow bail and cases it can’t. In a matter of health failure, the court sometimes grants bail,” he added.
Bi Mon Te Nay published an article on July 7 with a statement by a political activist group that falsely claimed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic political forces had been elected to serve as the country’s temporary new leaders.
“They have not committed a crime,” said Su Thet Hnin, a friend of one of the journalists, Kyaw Zaw Hein. “Bail should be granted to journalists. They write stories—they don’t kill people.”
Su Thet Hnin added that the court said it could not grant bail to two of the defendants who were arrested in Thailand, where they had fled. They are now staying in Insein Prison.
The defendants will appear in court again on Aug. 21.
Their lawyer, Robert San Aung, had advised against applying for bail before the witnesses were all questioned. He transferred the case to another lawyer, Kyaw Win, with consent from the defendants, who then submitted their application for bail.
Kyaw Win could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The defendants plan to apply again for bail at a district court, according to Su Thet Hnin.
A total of six employees of the journal were initially arrested. One editor of the now-defunct weekly was acquitted and released.
Special Branch Police first charged the defendants under the Emergency Provisions Act, which sets out lengthy prison sentences for affecting conduct of the public or undermining law and order. But the charges were later changed, to violation of Article 505, which carries a shorter maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment or a fine.
Su Thet Hnin said the Press Council has been urged to step in and help the journalists, who have sought to be tried under the country’s media law rather than for alleged sedition.