Four journalists and the CEO of the Rangoon-based Unity journal have been detained by the Burma police force’s Special Branch after the newspaper reported the existence of an alleged chemical weapons factory in central Burma.
The news report last week—under the headline: “A secret chemical weapon factory of the former generals, Chinese technicians and the commander-in-chief at Pauk Township”—included photographs of the supposed chemical weapons plant in Magwe Division.
Lu Maw Naing, a reporter for the journal based in Pauk Township, and CEO Tint San were detained on Friday and Saturday, respectively, apparently for publishing state secrets.
According to his family, Lu Maw Naing was taken in for questioning on Friday night. On Saturday morning, his family was informed there would be no bail as he is facing a charge of exposing state secrets, and that he would be moved to the custody of Special Branch in nearby Pakokku.
“Police from Pauk police station said giving bail was beyond their authority. And they said higher authorities from Naypyidaw will question him,” said Lu Maw Naing’s wife, Ma Lwin.
“The township judge told me that he will have to face a law suit. This afternoon, the police said he was handed over to Pakokku.”
Also on Saturday morning, Tint San was arrested by Police Special officers at the Unity journal’s Rangoon office, according to his assistant, Thiha Aung.
“Three officers came and took him away saying they have some questions. We do not know where he was taken and what will happen yet,” said Thiha Aung.
Three other journalists, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw and Sithu Soe were also detained Saturday, she said.
“We have to make sure first what is happening with our journalists and editor-in-chief, and we will consult with our lawyers and the Myanmar Press Council about this case and decide what to do.”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy shortly before he was detained, Tint San insisted that the journal has evidence to back up its claim about the chemical weapons factory.
“I went to the factory myself. We have concrete evidence. I even left out some facts that might disclose state secrets,” he said. “I’m ready to face whatever happens in the future.”
The issue of the Unity journal containing the report has reportedly been pulled from shelves by the authorities.
The report in question described in detail the facility, saying it is made up of buildings around a hill that are linked by more than 1,000 feet of tunnels. The facility is known only by the number 24.
The report said Chinese technicians had been seen by locals working at the factory, and said several metal boilers and large quantities of cement had been transported there. Locals said staff at the facility have told them they are producing chemical weapons, according to the report.
The claims could not be independently verified.
The report also said that the factory was visited by Burma Army’s former commander-in-chief, Snr Gen Than Shwe, in 2009, current Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing in 2011 and in 2013 by former Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo and current Vice President Nyan Htun.
The facility was built in 2009 on more than 3,000 acres of land confiscated from farmers, the report said.
Additional reporting by Sanay Lin.