Australian editor released on bail, faces trial in Burma

New York, March 29, 2011–Ross Dunkley, founder and editor of the Myanmar Times weekly newspaper, was released on bail from a Burmese prison today, according to international news reports. Dunkley, an Australian citizen arrested February 10 amid tense negotiations over the future of the weekly, had been denied several earlier requests for release on bail. 

Dunkley was released on 10 million kyat (US$11,780) bail because he required treatment for a heart condition, news reports said. He had been held at Insein Prison’s hospital compound.

“We welcome the court’s decision to release Myanmar Times editor Ross Dunkley on bail,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program director. “CPJ research shows that Burma’s courts are notoriously susceptible to political pressure, and we are highly suspicious of the motives behind his arrest. We call for a transparent and fair trial into the charges he faces.”

Dunkley was initially accused of violating the Immigration Act, but authorities later added charges of assaulting, drugging, and detaining a woman whom press reports identified as a prostitute. Dunkley has denied all of the charges, the reports said. Hearings in his case are scheduled to resume on Monday. If convicted, Dunkley could face up to 15 years in prison.

Australian media reports have noted the arrest coincided with intense negotiations between Dunkley and his government-linked Burmese partners about the future of the publication. The weekly newspaper, which maintains offices in downtown Rangoon, is published in both Burmese and English. Days after the arrest, his local partner, Tin Tun Oo, assumed Dunkley’s position as chief executive of the local-foreign joint venture, according to reports.

Dunkley’s arrest also comes amid much speculation about what role local media will be allowed to play in Burma’s transition from military to civilian rule. Top government censor Tint Swe was recently quoted in the local Flower News journal saying that the new parliamentary government would relax the military regime’s vast censorship policies, which have included detailed, prior censorship of all local publications. But local and international news reports say the media have been barred from covering the new parliament’s first sessions, and there have been no signs the new government plans to release the more than 2,100 political prisoners, including at least 13 journalists, currently behind bars.