Thu 15 May 2014
Filed under: Inside Burma,Media,Military,News
As the court hearing the Unity journal case prepares to hand down its verdict, defendants are calling for clarity on whether they have been charged with allegedly revealing state secrets as initially stated.
Daw Aye Aye Thet, a lawyer for the defendants, said charges filed under the 1923 Burma State Secrets Act appear to have been dropped, although a trespassing charge still stands. Pakokku District Court is expected to hand down a verdict on May 19 or 20, she said.
In late January, Unity published an investigative report headlined “Secret chemical weapons factory in Pauk township” and a follow up, “Factory’s in-charge denies No 24 Defence Equipment Factory as chemical weapon factory”.
Four of the weekly journal’s reporters, along with its CEO, were promptly arrested and charged with trespassing and revealing state secrets. The military plaintiff has testified that they were charged on the orders of office of President U Thein Sein, although officials in his office deny this.
However, at the eighth hearing earlier this month, Police Captain Maung Maung Than from Nay Pyi Taw said the five accused hand only been charged with trespassing.
“He stated that the reporters and CEO has been charged with trespassing because they have entered a banned place,” Daw Aye Aye Thet said.
The police official made the comments during questioning of witnesses from the plaintiffs side on May 6 and 7.
Daw Aye Aye Thet said that if the state secrets charge still stands it should now be formally dropped.
During earlier sessions, another defence lawyer, U Robert San Aung, told the court the state secrets charge should be dropped because the military and the government insist there was no chemical weapons factory. He said it would be incorrect to punish journalists for exposing a chemical weapons factory that never existed in the first place.
The defence is also vigorously challenging the validity of the trespassing charges. During earlier hearings, witnesses told the court that they had not seen any signs near the factory warning against trespassing. They said signs had been erected following the arrests of the journalists.