Detained Journalists’ Hearing Date Moved in Surprise Court Appearance

By The Irrawaddy 18 July 2017

YANGON— Three detained journalists were taken unexpectedly to Hsipaw Township court in Shan State on Tuesday morning ahead of their scheduled court hearing on July 21.

The Irrawaddy’s senior reporter Lawi Weng (U Thein Zaw), and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reporters U Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Phyo Naing were taken to the court after it was decided that their trial could be moved back to Hsipaw from Namhsan Township, said The Irrawaddy reporter’s defense lawyer Daw Khin Mi Mi.

The lawyer added that the trial’s start date has been moved to July 28. She described only finding out about the court appearance when the deputy township judge phoned her after reporters left.

Police chief Myint Win of Hsipaw told The Irrawaddy that the judge brought the hearing forward because she had United Nations Development Program (UNDP) training on July 21.

Outside the court, the detained reporters briefly spoke to a DVB reporter who was in the area. Lawi Weng said detaining journalists for doing their job was not democratic.

“It is the military’s threat to the press. But we won’t be afraid,” he said.

“We don’t even have a pen sharp enough to be a weapon,” said U Aye Naing. “We can die any time by stepping on landmines or being shot. We take risks for our work. But sadly, we were sued with Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, which was never used to sue journalists.”

The case of the three journalists was previously scheduled at Namhsan court but Daw Khin Mi Mi appealed to the Kyaukme District judge for the reporters to be examined in Hsipaw.

Journalists planned to attend and cover the court hearing on July 21. The first appearance was initially scheduled for July 11, but the reporters were unexpectedly taken on July 7 to the court, where their remand was extended.

The Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists is planning to take Yangon-based journalists to the court hearing.

Ko Tha Lun Zaung Htet of the committee told The Irrawaddy that moving forward the scheduled dates of the court hearings showed the authorities had “no respect” for the public and proved they could do “whatever they want.”

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 three journalists—and three men who drove them through the area—were charged under Article 17(1) of the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act for contacting the TNLA and were placed in detention in Hsipaw prison.