MANDALAY — Unity journal has closed its office in Rangoon due to financial problems, as its chief executive and four other journalists continue to face charges after reporting on an alleged chemical weapons factory.
“Since I was detained, my families and friends have struggled to run the journal. The management and finances simply became weak, so the producer decided to suspend it until I’m out from these miseries,” the chief executive, Tint San, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
He and four other journalists have been jailed in Magwe Division since early February after Unity published an article about an alleged chemical weapons factory in Pauk Township. The article included photographs and claimed the factory had been built under the former military regime on more than 3,000 acres of land confiscated from farmers.
The journalists were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act and trespassing in a restricted area. If convicted of the former charge, they could face 14 years in prison.
Witnesses gave their final testimonies in court on Monday. A verdict is expected on July 10.
Robert San Aung, the lawyer representing the defendants, said prosecutors rejected allegations that legal action was taken merely as a result of the controversial article.
“An official from the President’s Office said the accused were being sued because they trespassed on the factory compound. The consultant lawyer for the plaintiffs denied that the suit had been filed because they wrote an article about the factory,” he said.
Citing witness testimony, Robert San Aung noted that a signboard warning not to trespass was planted outside the factory only after the journalists were arrested.
“We think our clients will not be convicted of trespassing,” he said. “However, we have to wait and see what the court will decide.”
Meanwhile, the Unity journalists have been awarded with “honorary citizenship” by the mayor of a small town in northern Italy. In a letter sent to their family members, the Italian ambassador to Burma said the journalists would receive certificates and would be invited to visit Italy after their release from prison.
Lwin Lwin Myint, wife of journalist Lu Maw Naing, recalled the letter. “It said they were doing their duty for freedom of expression, and that the honorary citizenship was to support them and promote press freedom in the country,” she said.