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Bail was denied for a second time on Friday at the fourth hearing in the case of three journalists and three other defendants facing charges at a court in Hsipaw Township, Shan State, under Burma’s Unlawful Associations Act.
The accused — including DVB journalists Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung, and The Irrawaddy news outlet’s Lawi Weng — were detained on 26 June after returning from a drug-burning ceremony in northern Shan State organised by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic armed group that holds territory in the area.
The six defendants have been charged under article 17/1 of the Unlawful Associations Act, a colonial-era law that has been used to criminalise contact with several of Burma’s non-state armed groups in recent years.
Under the provision, anyone who “is a member of an unlawful association, or takes part in meetings of any such association, or contributes or receives or solicits any contribution for the purpose of any such association or in any way assists the operations of any such association,” faces up to three years in prison.
The TNLA had held the drug-burning ceremony, inviting the journalists to attend, to commemorate International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
In rejecting bail once again — an initial request submitted by the defendants’ legal team on 4 August was also denied — the ruling magistrate noted the case’s increasingly high public profile, as well as citing a previously state reason; that the defendants’ disparate places of residence outside of Hsipaw made granting bail logistically burdensome.
Friday’s trial proceedings saw just one of the prosecution’s witnesses, Major Myint Mon Aung, attempt to present evidence in the case. But the defence team lodged an objection, saying the CD he sought to turn over to the court was inadmissible as evidence because the authenticity of its contents was in doubt, according to Khin Mi Mi, one of the defendants’ lawyers. She said the evidence was being presented as “copies” of data from the defendants’ phones, with those devices described as having had their hardrives wiped.
The judge said a ruling on the CD’s admissibility would come at a later hearing.
Two other witnesses for the prosecution were called to give testimony on Friday but did not do so as lawyers for the defence and prosecution wrangled over the CD submitted as evidence.
Last week a failure to appear by two of the prosecution’s witnesses prompted concerns that the trial would drag on, as the defendants approach their second full month behind bars next week.
Their next court date has been set for 25 August.