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Four staff members of the Bi-Mon Te Nay news journal stood trial on Monday for charges of causing public alarm and undermining state security.
Seven employees of Bi-Mon Te Nay news journal (literally Bi-Midday Sun journal) – editors Ye Min Aung and Win Tin, editor-in-chief Aung Thant, owner Kyaw Min Khine, his wife Ei Ei San, office manager Yin Min Tun and reporter Kyaw Zaw Hein — faced charges after the publication falsely reported earlier this month that opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi and prominent ethnic leaders had formed an interim government in place of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party government.
A member of activist group Movement for Democracy Current Force, Naung Naung, was also charged for the organisation’s claims of the interim government, which sparked Bi-Mon Te Nay’s report.
While the three news journal editors were detained by Rangoon’s police the day after the 7 July report was published, the owner, his wife and the office manager were arrested 16 July in the Thai border town of Mae Sot with the assistance of Thai officials.
Robert San Aung, the defence lawyer for the Bi-Mon Te Nay staff, said that four of his clients, including the editors, were brought to a hearing in Rangoon’s Padeban Township on Monday. The court granted an additional two weeks of remand to the three editors, and it also conditionally discharged Ei Ei San, the owner’s wife, under Article 169 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as there was a lack of evidence, Robert San Aung said.
He also expressed concern over the recent prosecution and incarceration of media workers.
“Now that we have the Media Law in place and a Press Council, it would be ideal for the government to deal with media issues through the council first and to only seek legal action if that didn’t work,” said Robert San Aung. “I am concerned that arresting press workers like this will encourage further oppression of the media.”
The next hearing for the editors will be on 4 August. If found guilty, the seven people may face consecutive prison terms of up to 14 years in total.
After their editors were arrested and office equipment seized by the police, the Bi-Mon Te Nay news journal has suspended publication.