A court in the town of Thibaw in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan state on Friday rejected the second bail request of three journalists charged with violating a statute of the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act, lawyers for the defendants said.
The three journalists — Lawi Weng of the online journal The Irrawaddy and Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung of the Democratic Voice of Burma — were arrested by the military on June 26 for covering an illegal drug-burning event by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic armed group that has been involved in hostilities with the Myanmar army.
The trio has been charged under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act for being involved with an illegal organization. They face up to three years in prison if convicted.
Shwe Moe Nyunt, one of the defendants’ lawyers, said the court had planned to hear from two witnesses from the plaintiff’s side on Friday, but only one showed up because the other is involved in a military operation.
“We can do nothing because they said he is on duty, but he should have shown up because the hearing had already been scheduled [before the military operation began],” she said.
Shwe Moe Nyunt also said the witness who testified said that he had only signed a document indicating that he had kept 19 pieces of evidence from the reporters, including cameras and videos, but he did not see them himself.
On July 28, the plaintiff, Captain Thet Naing Oo from the Myanmar army’s Infantry Unit 503, submitted video files of TNLA’s drug-burning ceremony confiscated from the detained reporters’ cameras as evidence.
'They are not guilty'
“The major point is that the reporters are not guilty,” said Maung Maung Win, another attorney representing the journalists.
“They have been charged under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act for being involved with an unlawful organization, so we have asked them [the military] to show us the president’s order that recognizes the TNLA as an unlawful organization,” he said.
“It’s not fair for us to attend the hearings in court when they can’t show us the main evidence that TNLA is an unlawful organization,” he said. “We will continue appearing in court in accordance with current law.”
On Wednesday, Yu Lwin Aung, a member of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, met with the journalists to interview them separately about the case, and concluded that they had not broken the law based on their accounts.
Detained DVB reporter Aye Nai said Yu Lwin Aung asked the three if they believed their rights had been violated.
Yu Lwin Aung also told them that reporters can record videos even while fighting is going on between the government army and rebel groups, Aye Nai said.
The journalists were first denied bail on Aug. 4. Their next hearing will be on Aug. 18.
Reported by Kan Thar for RFA Myanmar’s Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.