Thai authorities in the border town of Mae Sot have arrested the publisher of Burmese journal Bi Mon Te Nay together with his wife and an employee, according to local officials and media reports. They were detained last week and handed over to Burmese authorities for allegedly avoiding a court summons in a trial over an article that upset the government.
Rangoon police told The Irrawaddy on Monday that a total of eight members of the Bi Mon Te Nay are being prosecuted for charges that carry lengthy prison sentences.
Zaw Maw Aung, an administrator for Myawaddy Township, located in eastern Burma’s Karen State, said authorities on both sides of the border had collaborated to apprehend the publisher Kyaw Min Khaing, his wife Ei Ei San and newspaper office manager Yin Min Htun, who were hiding in Mae Sot according to media reports.
“They have been arrested because they are run-away suspects and the Thai police helped the Myanmar police,” he said, adding that the defendants had been taken to Rangoon to testify in the trial on July 16.
“Some of the detained are the main people in the case but they left their homes [after they were summoned], so the police followed them to make them appear at the trial,” Zaw Maw Aung said, adding that the arrests had been in accordance with court procedures.
Burmese and Thai border authorities occasionally collaborate to deal with cross-border crime, such as drug smuggling, and to apprehend suspects fleeing across the border.
DVB reported that the couple had been with their young children during the time of arrest and that Burmese authorities had taken them to their grandparents in Rangoon.
Thein Min Aung, a senior reporter at the now-defunct Bi Mon Te Nay in Rangoon, said he heard of the arrests but knew of no further details.
Lt. Aung Naing Myint, the Pabedan Township Police Station chief in Rangoon, said the Special Branch police were handling the Bi Mon Te Nay trial and were bringing charges against seven men and one woman who worked at the journal.
“The prosecution is led by the Special Branch police and we accepted the case opened by them [in Pabedan Township]. They are being prosecuted under the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act articles 5(d) and 5(j),” he said.
Aung Naing Myint said four would appear in Pabedan Township Court on Tuesday, while other defendants would appear on Wednesday. “Tomorrow the court will consider whether to accept the case or not,” he added.
The Emergency Provisions Act articles 5(d) and 5(j) set out punishments for affecting conduct of the public or undermining law and order.
The draconian law was often invoked during the previous military regime to imprison dissidents and each charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.
Three editors and a reporter of Bi Mon Te Nay have been detained since early July, after the weekly journal ran a front page story on a statement by an activist group, which mistakenly claimed that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had formed an interim government.
Shortly after the story appeared, government mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar ran an article claiming that “the news story may cause misunderstanding among readers and defamation of the government, undermine the stability of the state and damage public interest.”
The trial against Bi Mon Te Nay journalists is the latest in a number of legal cases by authorities against Burmese journalists, and appears to be part of wider effort by the government to reign in and intimidate local media, which had been enjoying a period of relative freedom after President Thein Sein lifted junta-era media restrictions in 2012.
On July 10, a court in Magwe Division sentenced four journalists and the CEO of Unity journal to 10 years in prison with hard labor after the newspaper ran a story alleging that the Burma Army was developing a chemical weapons plant in central Burma.
In the days following the verdict, which drew widespread local and international condemnation, some 50 reporters held a spontaneous silent protest in Rangoon. Local authorities later announced that they plan prosecute all reporters involved for holding an authorized protest, an offense that carries a three-month prison sentence.