Tue 1 Apr 2014
Filed under: Inside Burma,Media,News
Witnesses summoned by the state provided inconsistent statements on Monday during the trial of four journalists and the CEO of Unity Journal for exposing a secret weapons factory in Pauk Township, Magway Region.
One witnesses appeared to not be aware of any ‘restricted area’ signboards around the factory perimeter and the other one said that warnings against taking photos were only erected earlier this year.
This is the fifth hearing of a trial held at Pakkoku District Court accusing four journalists and the Unity Journal’s CEO Tin San for exposing state secrets.
They are being charged under the Official Secrets Act which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. The trial has drawn international criticism from human rights groups and media watchdogs.
Under further questioning by the defence, a local villager from the nearby Laypintai village testified that he had indeed guided reporters to the factory site. He was never arrested but the police later asked him to testify in court.
He confirmed that he had never seen signboards saying: ‘photos restricted’, ‘no trespassing without permission’ or ‘offenders will be prosecuted’, written in Myanmar language. Furthermore, there were no walls or barbed wires in the areas where he guided the reporters.
He claimed that he did not know anything about the Unity Journal’s story of the factory and was informed by the police to come and testify as a witness along with two other women.
Khin Myint, a brick carrier from the construction of No. 25 Defence Equipment Factory, testified that she rode in a truck delivering bricks to the factory on January 19.
On the way to the factory, the driver’s sister asked the driver to take two strangers along with him. When the truck arrived at the main gate of the factory, all the workers got off and entered the factory after being inspected by guards.
The two strangers also got off and walked to the main gate. They helped out carrying bricks and later came returned on the same truck, getting off at the same place they were picked up.
She identified reporters Thae Yazar Oo and Si Thu Soe as the two men and said she did not see them carrying any cameras or other equipment when they went inside the factory, which was heavily guarded.
On January 3, the Unity Journal published an investigative report under the headline: ‘secret chemical weapon factory in Pauk Township’. On January 30, the journal published a follow up: ‘Factory’s in-charge denies No. 24 Defence Equipment Factory as chemical weapon factory’.
The weekly journal’s reporters and CEO were promptly arrested and charged for violating the Official Secrets Act.
Lt-Colonel Kyaw Kyaw Oo, head of the admin department for No. 24 Defence Equipment Factory filed a case against the Unity Journal under Section 3 (1) (a)/9 of the Official Secrets Act.