MYANMAR: Five Journalists Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

Rapid Action Network Appeal for Unity weekly journalists

Five journalists with the Unity weekly journal, arrested in January and February 2014, were each sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour on July 10, 2014 over a report about an alleged secret chemical weapons factory carried by the publication in January. Fifty other journalists who staged a peaceful protest against the sentences on July 12 now face charges. PEN calls for the five to be released immediately and unconditionally and for any charges against the others related to the peaceful protest to be dropped.

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Send appeals:

  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of journalists Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw, Sithu Soe and Tint San who have been imprisoned solely in connection with their professional activities;
  • Seeking assurances that the five men are protected from torture or other ill-treatment, that they will not be transferred to remote prisons, that they have regular access to family members and lawyers of their choosing, and receive all necessary medical treatment;
  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all other prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, and to drop charges against any person arrested solely for the peaceful exercise of his or her right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling for all laws which impose unlawful restrictions on the right to freedom of expression to be repealed or amended in line with international human rights standards.


On July 10, 2014 a court in Pakkoku, Magway Region, sentenced U Tin San, the chief executive officer of the weekly Unity journal, and his editorial staff: U Ya Zar Oo, U Paing Thet Kyaw, U Sithu Soe and U Lu Maw Naing to 10 years in jail with hard labour. They had been arrested on Jan. 13 and Feb. 1, 2014 after Unity published an article on Jan. 25 about an alleged secret chemical weapons factory in Pauk Township, Pakokku District known as Defence Product Factory No. 24. According to state media, the five were charged with “disclosing State secrets, trespassing on the restricted area of the factory, taking photographs and the act of abetting” under Article 3(1) A/9 of Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. Their trial began on Feb. 12, 2014, and they were convicted on June 30, 2014 for breaching the 1923 Official Secrets Act, trespassing in a restricted area and taking photos of a Defence Ministry facility without permission. On June 26, 2014 the publication suspended operations due to financial problems. All five are reportedly planning to lodge an appeal against their conviction and sentence.

Journalists protest in front of Myanmar Peace Center where Myanmar's President Thein Sein is meeting with Myanmar's film stars, in Yangon July 12, 2014. Four journalists and a newspaper boss were sentenced in Myanmar on July 10, 2014 to 10 years' jail with hard labour for reporting about an alleged chemical weapons factory, legal and media sources said. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Journalists protest in front of Myanmar Peace Center where Myanmar’s President Thein Sein is meeting with Myanmar’s film stars, in Yangon July 12, 2014.  REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

On July 12, 2014, 50 reporters, some with tape over their mouths, held a sit-down protest outside the Myanmar Peace Center in Yangon while President U Thein Sein was inside attending a cultural event. Police have opened cases against those involved in the sit-down protest under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Act. Convictions under Section 18 carry a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment and a fine of K30,000 (CAD $33).

The five are currently detained at the Pakokku prison, however there are concerns they may be transferred to remote prisons, far away from their family members. The transfer of prisoners of conscience to remote prisons was a hallmark of the previous military government. Conditions of detention in Myanmar are poor, and all are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and a lack of access to adequate medical treatment.

PEN’s campaigning for freedom of expression in Myanmar

Myanmar has a been a key country for PEN International’s free expression campaigning for over 20 years, when many of the leading figures and founding members of PEN Myanmar such as such as Zarganar, Ma Thida, and Nay Phone Latt were first imprisoned. In July 2013, a PEN International Publishers Circle delegation went to Myanmar, and met with 20 writers who became the founding members of the PEN Centre. In September 2013, at the 79th International Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, PEN Myanmar was formally launched, after a half century of repressive military rule in the country. PEN Myanmar has openly dedicated itself to strengthening freedom of expression and legal mechanisms in Myanmar, in addition to working on the pragmatic problems of publication and support of emerging writers.

Although there have been significant improvements to the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly situations in the country since 2010, the obstacles are huge and the centre is already facing freedom of expression challenges.

PEN International remains highly concerned about the following issues:

  • New legislation is weak. Draft bills on press require licences to speak and the “right to protest law” requires “permission” and can be used to arrest gatherings of more than two people. Of particular concern is the Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law bill, passed by Myanmar’s lower house of parliament on July 4, 2013, and which is said to fall far below international standards.
  • National security provisions remain in place, including the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, the 2000 Internet Act, and the 2004 Electronic Transactions Act
  • Almost all the political prisoners released since 2011 have only had their sentences suspended under Burma penal code 401, rather than having their sentences revoked.
  • Political prisoners were released with no programme of restorative justice.
  • The democratization process and national dialogue excludes ethnic diversity. Ethnic conflict is seriously threatening the reform and national reconciliation process, and human rights violations are taking place in states with large minority populations on a large scale.
  • The regulations governing the Press Council, founded in October 2012, fall far short of international standards to guarantee freedom of the press.
  • Broadcasters are still government controlled.
  • There is an atmosphere of lawsuits – in particular a growing number of defamation cases against journalists.
  • Corruption levels are among worst in world.
  • There has been no constitutional change to reduce the power of the military in the administration of the country.

Appeals to:

Thein Sein
President’s Office
Nay Pyi Taw
Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Home Affairs
Lt Gen. Ko Ko
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Nay Pyi Taw
Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to:

Chairman, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
U Win Mra
27 Pyay Road, Hline Township
Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Photo credit: Journalists protest in front of Myanmar Peace Center where Myanmar’s President Thein Sein is meeting with Myanmar’s film stars, in Yangon July 12, 2014. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun