Detained Journalists Denied Bail

By Zarni Mann 4 August 2017

HSIPAW TOWNSHIP, Shan State — The Hsipaw Township Court judge rejected an appeal for bail from six men, including three journalists, charged under the Unlawful Associations Act on Friday morning, saying he did not yet know enough details of the case to make a judgment.

“The judge said he needs more time to understand the whole case as only one witness for the prosecution has so far been questioned, by their own lawyer,” said Daw Khin Mi Mi, lawyer for defendant Irrawaddy reporter Lawi Weng.

Judge U Kyaw Thu Moe also cited the fact that the six defendants were not residents of Hsipaw as a reason behind the decision, saying it could cause delay to court proceedings, she added.

The defendants’ lawyers plan to apply for bail again after a few court hearings.

Local army official Capt. Thet Naing Oo—a witness for the prosecution—was questioned by defense lawyers in court on Friday.

The three journalists—Irrawaddy reporter Lawi Wang (U Thein Zaw) and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reporters U Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Phone Aung—appeared in good health and spirits as they arrived at their second hearing of the trial.

“The government always said they wanted to bring about change, why do they still use this outdated law?” Lawi Weng questioned as he arrived at court. “We rarely see attempts by the National League or Democracy-led government to amend or abolish this outdated law.”

“The law suit against us is a law suit against every journalist—our experience shows we still have no freedom to report,” said Ko Pyae Phone Aung, DVB reporter.

“Since other journalists facing trial were released on bail, we also want bail,” said U Aye Naing, senior reporter of DVB, adding that their lawyers will handle the applications.

The reporters were arrested on June 26 in Namhsan on their way back from covering a drug-burning ceremony held by ethnic armed group the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) to mark the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse.

The six men – three journalists, two drivers and a local man – were travelling in two vehicles near Phayagyi Village, and were arrested on the road between Namhsan and Lashio townships, on suspicion of connection with ethnic armed group the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which operates in the area.

The journalists and a local man were charged under Article 17(1) of the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act for contacting the TNLA, while the drivers received additional charges for the two unlicensed vehicles. They were placed in detention in Hsipaw Prison.