YANGON — Hsipaw Township Court dropped charges of unlawful association against three journalists from The Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) on Friday.
The journalists, who were detained for 67 days in Hsipaw Prison, were released on bail on Sept. 1 after the Myanmar Army withdrew cases against six journalists, including the three in Hsipaw, and two activists.
Despite the military plaintiff adjutant Thet Naing Oo withdrawing the charges on a Sept. 1 court hearing, dismissal of the case was suspended twice, with the judge citing a requirement from the government’s legal official.
The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng, also known as U Thein Zaw, and U Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Phone Aung from the DVB were arrested along with three other men by the military on June 26 as they returned from covering a drug-burning ceremony hosted by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
The military accused them of unlawful association with the TNLA and opened the case under Article 17 (1) of the Unlawful Association Act. The journalists were taken for court hearings on an almost weekly basis since then.
The judge said on Friday’s court hearing that the TNLA is negotiating with the government, so for the sake of Myanmar’s peace process the court dropped the case, recalled U Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer of Lawi Weng.
The charges of unlawful association against another three men who were arrested along with the journalists were also dropped.
The confiscated phones, laptops, and cameras of the journalists will be returned after 30 days of the case being dropped, as per criminal procedure, said the lawyer.
“Amendments or a repeal of the Unlawful Association Act must be considered, as it can lead to immediate arrests and put the accused behind bars only if they are thought guilty of the crime,” U Aye Naing of DVB told media after the court hearing.
Lawi Weng of The Irrawaddy said, “I feel like we are back to real life,” adding that he would continue reporting on ethnic issues to give a voice to ethnic minorities and inform people of the true situation on the ground.