Bangkok, July 23, 2014--Burmese authorities should drop national security-related charges brought against journalists and staff members of the Bi Mon Te Nay (Bi-Midday Sun) news journal, and release them from pre-trial detention immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
"These bogus security-related charges represent the latest assault on press freedom in Burma," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "The case against Bi Mon Te Nay makes clear that President Thein Sein's once buoyant democratic reform program is now dead in the water. The international community should take note and respond with correspondingly punitive measures."
Three editors, Ye Min Aung, Win Tin, and Aung Thant, along with the journal's publisher, his wife, a reporter, and an additional staff member, have been charged with undermining state security and causing public alarm under the 1950 Emergency Act and Article 5 (d) of the criminal code, according to news reports.
The three editors were detained on July 8 and 9 and are currently being held at Rangoon's Insein prison, news reports said. Kyaw Zaw Hein, reporter for the journal, was being held in Sanchaung Township police station, reports said. Bi Mon Te Nay publisher Kyaw Min Khaing, his wife Ei Ei San, and employee Yin Min Tun were apprehended on July 16 in the western district of Mae Sot in Thailand and deported by Thai authorities to Burma on the basis of the charges, according to reports. The reports said the three had fled for Thailand due to their concerns they would not receive a fair trial.
A Padeban Township court on Tuesday ruled that the three editors be kept in pre-trial detention for questioning, according to local reports. The trial is scheduled to resume on August 4, the reports said. If found guilty, the defendants each face up to 14 years in prison.
The charges stem from a July 7 Bi Mon Te Nay report that cited a local activist group as claiming that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic minority leaders had independently formed a new interim government, reports said.
Bi Mon Te Nay and its sister publication, Mon Te Nay, suspended publication after its editors were arrested and office equipment seized by police earlier this month, reports said.
Earlier this month, four journalists and the chief executive of the Unity news journal were sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in prison under the 1923 Official Secrets Act for reporting on a secretive military facility. Thein Sein's government has frequently used various outdated and repressive laws, some dating back to the country's colonial period, to censor and silence critical news outlets.