Yarzar Oo

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Naing, Kyaw, Soe, and Oo were detained by police within a week of Unity’s publishing an exposé on its front page alleging that chemical weapons were being produced at a secret military facility in Myanmar’s central Magwe division. All four journalists, as well as the weekly news journal’s chief executive, San, were held in pretrial detention.

On July 10, 2014, the Pakokku Township Court sentenced all five to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor under the 1923 Official Secrets Act, which criminalizes acts deemed prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state. The anti-state charges of divulging state secrets and trespassing were filed and prosecuted by the President’s Office. The publication closed by July 2014 for financial reasons after the arrest of San, according to reports.

The January 25, 2014, story quoted villagers as saying that the 3,000-acre complex was used for the production of chemical weapons and that technicians who appeared to be Chinese were frequently seen there. The report claimed that several senior military members, including former junta leader Senior General Than Shwe and current Commander in Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, had visited the secret facility.

On October 2, 2014, the Magwe Divisional Court reduced all five of their sentences to seven years with hard labor on appeal. On November 26, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal for acquittal by Naing, Kyaw, Soe, and Oo, according to news reports. On the same day, the court denied San’s separate appeal for a reduction of his sentence to five years, reports said. A final appeal by all five for “special leave,” the last possible appeal option under Myanmar law, was rejected by the Supreme Court on May 15, 2015, according to news reports.

All five were being held at Pakkoku Prison in late year. They are allowed regular visits from family and access to medicine, according to Thiha Saw, a member of the quasi-independent interim Press Council of Myanmar, who advocated their early release.