MANDALAY — The Pakokku Township Court sentenced four journalists and the CEO of the Unity journal to 10 years imprisonment with hard labor on Thursday for reporting allegations that a Burmese military facility in Magwe Division was being used to manufacture chemical weapons.
The five men have been in military custody since they were detained by the Burmese police force’s Special Branch shortly after the Jan. 25 publication of a report about the facility, which included photographs of the alleged chemical weapons factory.
The President’s Office filed a lawsuit against Unity journal’s CEO, Tin Hsan, 52, and journalists Lu Maw Naing, 28, Sithu Soe, 22, The Yazar Oo, 28, and Aung Thura, 25, for publishing state secrets and trespassing. According to the defendants’ lawyer, the court passed down sentences on Thursday that will see all five serve 10 years in prison and carry out hard labor.
Lwin Lwin Myint, the wife of Lu Maw Naing, said the court’s decision was “inhumane.”
“We didn’t expect they would get sentences with hard labor. How could they sentence 10 years with hard labor for reporting news?” Lwin Lwin Myint said. “This is inhumane and we are now worrying for their health.”
The journalists’ lawyer, Robert San Aung, told The Irrawaddy that the decision would be appealed.
“The Media Law has just been enacted and the court’s decision should go accordingly with the Media Law,” he said, referring to the recently passed legislation, which does not include prison terms for journalists found to have breached the law in their work.
“Sentencing young journalists to 10 years and hard labor is extreme and unreasonable. We will submit an appeal to a higher court soon.”
The lawyer also questioned why the lawsuit was filed by the President’s Office and not the Defense Ministry. “We just want to say that the legislature and the judiciary of this country are still under the control of some people,” he added.
Currently, the journalists are detained at Pakokku prison, but family members are concerned that they will soon be sent to prisons in remote parts of the country.