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Sala Baganza, a small town in northern Italy with a population of five and a half thousand, has awarded honorary citizenship to the four journalists and CEO of Unity Weekly journal who are currently on trial in Burma for allegedly revealing state secrets.
On the night of 12 June, the town council of Sala Baganza, situated near Parma, sat for an extraordinary meeting at which the 12 members voted unanimously to extend the honour of citizenship to the five Burmese for “exceptional and humanitarian reasons”.
“The city of Sala Baganza hereby confers honorary citizenship to reporters Thae Yar Zar Oo, Kyaw Thet Paing [aka Aung Thura], Lu Maw Naing, Si Thu, and [CEO] U Tin Soe San [aka Hsin Hsan], who through their professional activities ensure the right to freedom of opinion and expression in their country, Myanmar,” the statement read.
Speaking to DVB, the mayor of Sala Baganza, Cristina Merusi, said, “Freedom of information is the basis of democracy in a free country. To support this freedom that we have through journalism and those who practice it, we decided to honour the five journalists of Unity Weekly in Burma through an act which for us is very important – honorary citizenship of our town.
“No more than 70 years ago, we in Italy were in similar conditions,” she said. “Today we hope to be useful to Burma as it struggles to achieve democracy and human dignity.”
Robert San Aung, one of the lawyers for the defendants, told DVB on Friday that the five detained media workers had been informed of the award.
“Their families were very proud when they heard the news,” he said.
Charged under Article 3 of the Official Secrets Act, the five were accused of revealing state secrets after publishing a report in January about a government facility being constructed in Magwe’s Pauk Township by the Burmese military, which they alleged to be a chemical weapons factory.
The final day of their trial is on Monday, 30 June, when a verdict is expected.
While noting that honorary citizenship is a symbolic award, Mayor Merusi said that the residents of her town would “be following the Unity journalists’ fate by all possible means, because they are now our fellow citizens”.
She added that she wanted to invite the Unity journalists and CEO Tin Soe Tan to Sala Baganza to officially receive certificates of citizenship.
Guiseppe Malpeli, the president of the Italy-Burma Friendship Association, applauded the award.
“The Italy-Burma Friendship Association, of which I am President, follows the daily lives and history of the Burmese people. We are very close to the material conditions and freedom of the people and of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi,” he told DVB.
“Because there may be free elections in 2015, it is necessary that there is absolute freedom of the press. We see the difficulties arising from the arrest of the Unity journalists and we want to help them, and to encourage true freedom of information in Burma.”
Malpeli confirmed that he was sending news of the honorary citizenship awards to senior Burmese government officials, including President Thein Sein, Minister for Home Affairs Lt-Gen Ko Ko and Attorney General Tun Shin.“The residents of Sala Baganza will be following the Unity journalists’ fate by all possible means, because they are now our fellow citizens.”
Meanwhile, on 12 June, a resolution was passed in the Italian parliament in Rome supporting the Burmese opposition’s campaign to enact constitutional reform, and in particular thowing its weight behind National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s bid to run for president in the 2015 elections.
“We strongly believe that there is a need to establish a state with federal democratic self-determination and equality,” resolution 7-00389 states. “The 2008 Constitution does not guarantee a democratic federal state. We strongly believe that the 2008 Constitution should be amended or a new Constitution drawn up.
“The will of the Italian people for an increase in trade and economic cooperation, social, cultural and political life with the people of Myanmar rests on a basis of common shared values of democracy, and therefore it is necessary that our institutions and civil society strongly support the need for the Constitution to be revised to ensure that Myanmar’s general election of 2015 will be free and fair,” it concluded.
In October 2013, Italy’s Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies approved a resolution committing the government to “intervene in every avenue” to promote the democratic process in Burma.
Suu Kyi paid a four-day visit to Italy in October last year when she met senior government figures, including the Italian president, speaker of the house, prime minister and foreign minister.