ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME
Urgent Appeal Update: AHRC-UAU-024-2014
14 July 2014
[RE: BURMA/MYANMAR: Journalists prosecuted because of article about army]
BURMA/MYANMAR: Journalists get ten years jail for writing on army
ISSUES: Judicial system; impunity; military; freedom of expression
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) regrets to inform you that four journalists who wrote an investigative article about an army facility in Burma have been sentenced to ten years in jail, along with their editor. The conviction is clearly intended to intimidate the print media in Burma, or Myanmar, at a time that the country is supposedly democratizing.
As we wrote in the original urgent appeal (AHRC-UAC-066-2014) the Unity Journal on 25 January 2014 published an article alleging that a military facility in Magway Region was being used for the making of chemical weapons. The officer responsible for the factory then brought a criminal case against the journal director and reporters for allegedly breaching state secrets, taking photographs of the facility without permission, and publishing the article without first obtaining approval.
Despite the many obvious flaws in the case brought against the men, set out in that appeal, on July 10 a judge sentenced all five of them to ten years in jail. Observers to the trial have pointed out that throughout the court favoured the prosecution side, hearing 29 of its witnesses against only six for the defence, and that in its characteristics the court process was not significantly different from the period of direct military dictatorship.
Further details of the case are in the sample letter below.
Despite the changed political conditions in Myanmar, still many journalists and writers are facing legal actions for doing nothing other than exercising their right to free expression. For instance, Ma Khine, a journalist with Eleven Media, was sentenced to jail over a story of alleged judicial corruption by accusing her of interfering with the duties of public service personnel. She served her full prison term. Journalist with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) Ko Zaw Phay and parents of school children who tried to get information on choosing scholarship awards to go to Japan from the Magway Regional Education Office also were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. And currently another four journalists from the Mondi news journal are facing charges over their reporting. Therefore, the Unity case is part of a larger project to intimidate and delimit the print media, which at present is the only independent media in Burma, since the broadcast media remains under direct control of the government in the case of television, or in the case of radio is either under directly control or closely monitored.
Please write a letter condemning the men’s conviction and to call for their urgent release through the reversal of convictions. Please note that for the purposes of the letter Burma is referred to by its official name, Myanmar.
Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar and on the independence of judges and lawyers, and to the regional human rights office for Southeast Asia calling for interventions into this case.
MYANMAR: Executive Director and Journalists of the Unity Journal given ten years jail for alleged leaking of state secrets
Names of persons being prosecuted:
1. U Tint San aged 52 (Son of U Thein Tun), Executive Director of Unity Journal
2. Thae Yazar Oo aged 28 (Son of U Thein Maung Gyi), Senior Journalist
3. Paing Thet Kyaw (a.k.a.) Aung Thu Ya aged 25 (Son of U Aung Ko Lwin), Senior Journalist
4. Si Thu Soe aged 22 (Son of U Win Hlaing), Senior Journalist
5. Lu Maw Naing (a.k.a.) Lin Kyaw Oo (a.k.a.) Lu Maw aged 28 (Son of U Maung Maung Kyi), Journalist for rural areas
Names of persons involved in prosecution:
1. Lt-Colonel Kyaw Kyaw Oo, Serial No. Kyi/28299, No. 24 Defence Material Factory, Myar Pine Village Tract, Pauk Township, Magway Region
Criminal Case: No. 4/2014, Pakkoku District Court, Judge U Maung Maung Htay presiding, all five accused sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with labour on 10 July 2014, accused 1-4 under section 3(1)(a) the Burma Official Secrets Act 1923, and accused 5 under sections 3(2)(a)/9.
I condemn the sentencing of four journalists and a news editor to ten years in prison each under an antiquated law on state secrets and urge that the sentences be overturned and that they be released.
According to the information that I have received, after the Unity Journal on 25 January 2014 published an article alleging that a military facility in Pauk Township of Magway Region was being used for the making of chemical weapons, the officer responsible for the factory, Lt-Col. Kyaw Kyaw Oo brought a criminal case against the journal director and reporters for allegedly breaching state secrets, taking photographs of the facility without permission, and publishing the article without first obtaining approval.
On July 10 a district judge sentenced all five men to ten years in prison, one for allegedly attempting to obtain and retain official documents concerning the site, and the others on the charge under the Burma Official Secrets Act that, “If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State approaches, inspects, passes over or is in the vicinity of, or enters, any prohibited place… he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend, where the offence is committed in relation to any work of defense, arsenal, naval, military or air force establishment or station, mine, minefield, factory, dockyard, camp, ship or aircraft or otherwise in relation to the naval, military or air force affairs of [the State] or in relation to any secret official code, to fourteen years…”
The many flaws in the case have already been brought to your attention. They include that the correct procedure was not followed in bringing the case; that the factory in question does not fall under the terms of the law used to convict the men; and, that three accused were allegedly forced to confess. It has also been pointed out that the men were acting in the national interest, not contrary to it, by reporting on an issue of national concern.
In addition to the above, the case is clearly intended to threaten the media in Myanmar, and have a chilling effect on public debate. Presently the broadcast media remains under direct state control or is tightly monitored. Only the print media is able to communicate relatively freely on matters of national concern such as those that the journalists were working on in this instance. By convicting the five men, the court, acting on behalf of the military, is sending a signal that certain topics – including those that question the predominance of the army in all spheres of political and economic life, will not be tolerated. Indeed, the case is only one of a number currently going on against journalists in Myanmar.
Therefore, I call for the reversal of these convictions and release of the five men at the earliest opportunity. I take the opportunity to note that it is not sufficient that the men be released through a presidential pardon, as have other persons in recent times, since the pardon keeps the conviction of the accused intact. These men have committed no crime. Not only do they not deserve to be in prison, but also they do not deserve to have a criminal record. Therefore, the sentences should not merely be pardoned but overturned completely.
Lastly, it seems profoundly obvious yet necessary to add that the Burma Official Secrets Act 1923 is not up to date anymore and that it ought to be revoked or significantly amended to be made consistent with Myanmar’s new era of political and social change, and not to enable people who would prefer that the country remain stuck in the past to use it as a weapon against persons legitimately exercising the freedom of expression.
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
1. Lt-Gen. Ko Ko
Minister for Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663
Fax: +95 67 412 439
2. U Thein Sein
President of Myanmar
3. U Tun Tun Oo
Office of the Supreme Court
Office No. 24
Tel: + 95 67 404 080/ 071/ 078/ 067 or + 95 1 372 145
Fax: + 95 67 404 059
4. Thura U Aung Ko
Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial and Legislative Committee
Pythu Hluttaw Office
5. U Aung Nyein
Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial and Legislative Committee
Committee for Public Complaints and Appeals
Office of the Amyotha Hluttaw
6. U Win Mra
Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
27 Pyay Road
Tel: +95-1-659 668
Fax: +95-1-659 668
7. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
Pyithu Hluttaw Rule of Law and Tranquility Committee
Office of the Pyithu Hluttaw
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (email@example.com)