Four reporters and the CEO of the Unity newspaper have been sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor for investigating and reporting on an alleged chemical weapons factory. On January 25th, the newspaper reported that this facility was built in 2009 and consisted of a network of underground tunnels covering 3,000 acres of land. The article also included quotes from workers stating that the factory was being used to produce chemical weapons.
The five journalists were charged with violating the 1923 Official Secrets Act including “trespassing on the restricted area of the factory.” Although it has been not been disclosed the exact methods by which the journalists obtained this information, it can be assumed that they physically went to the scene because of the trespassing charge. The newspaper has since closed since the conviction.
The techniques used by the journalists would not be seen as unsavory in other parts of the world. Conversely, the imprisonment of these journalists has received international backlash from Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Within Myanmar there has also been a number of protests. Journalists wearing t-shirts that read “Stop killing press” gathered together near the Yangon Schwedagon Pagoda and other publications printed blacked-out front pages to symbolize solidarity.
In a speech on July 7th, President Thein Sein implicitly supported the courts ruling. He stated that if any media takes advantage of media freedom by reporting on matters sensitive to the state and potentially dangerous to national security then “effective legal action will be taken against that media.”