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Press bodies in Burma have denounced the arrests of five media workers from news journal Unity Weekly over the 25 January reporting of an alleged ‘secret chemical weapon factory’ in Magwe Division.
A joint-statement released by the Myanmar Journalists Association, Myanmar Press Union, Myanmar Journalists Network and PEN Myanmar, dated 3 February, expresses concern over “improper procedures” in the prosecution of Unity Weeky’s staff, who have been arrested and questioned under the Official Secrets Act.
“The arrests of the Unity Weekly’s local correspondent as well as the Chief Executive Officer prior to pressing charges, and their detention for over 24 hours is similar practice to the former military regime acting outside of legal guidelines,” said the statement.
PEN Myanmar Board member Myo Myint Nyein said the prosecution of Unity Weekly staff was against legal regulations.
“If the government is planning a legal action, then they should act within the law, which means they need to press charges first and then summon the individuals for questioning in conformity with the law,” said Myo Myint Nyein.
“Moreover, the Interim Press Council was formed under Presidential directive specifically to deal with issues like this, so a concerned government organisation should first reach out to the Press Council and then follow up as necessary. Taking people in casually and not letting them go is very similar to what the former military regime used to do.”
Myint Kyaw, General Secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network said: “The government claimed the Ministry of Home Affairs is seeking action against Unity Weekly in accordance with the law but they lack transparency in not clarifying what is provided in the law, while giving an impression to the press that they are liable of legal action if they cover certain issues.”
“This is recreating the feeling of being under threat in the same way as under the former military regime,” he continued.
Sithu Aung Myint, renowned journalist and political analyst, criticised the Unity Weekly’s lack of media ethics, suggesting a lack of credible evidence to support the claim that the facility was in fact a “secret chemical weapon factory”.
“The report contained some photographs and assumptions about the nature of the buildings inside the compound and also mentioned ‘rockets’, but it did not include any information to support these claims — so the writing is completely against journalism ethics” said Sithu Aung Myint.
“More importantly,” he added, “the report did not include any information to prove the facility is really a chemical weapons factory except for local testimony. It also mentioned names in the headlines such as the former Senior General [Than Shwe], the current Commander in Chief [Min Aung Hlaing] as well as Chinese technicians. The report also included a photo of the Commander in Chief and the China President but no explanation of how they are relevant to the story.”