Supreme Court Rejects Appeal of Unity Journalists

By San Yamin Aung 27 November 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by four journalists and the CEO of the defunct Unity journal, who are serving a sentence of seven years in prison with hard labor, the lawyer of the journalists said.

Robert San Aung said journalists Lu Maw Naing, 28, Sithu Soe, 22, The Yazar Oo, 28, and Aung Thura, 25, had appealed for full acquittal by the Supreme Court in the capital Naypyidaw on Oct. 4, adding that the CEO Tint San, 52, who is represented by a different lawyer, had appealed to have his sentence reduced to five years in prison.

“The court dismissed the appeal of the journalists yesterday at 3 pm, and also dismissed the appeal of the CEO,” he said.

Robert San Aung said he would now file an appeal by special leave—the last appeal option for a defendant with the Supreme Court—on behalf of the four journalists. “We will try again for the journalists to get full acquittal, but if the special leave appeal is rejected then there are no more [legal] options,” he said.

Robert San Aung said the Supreme Court had been wrong to reject the appeal, adding that the courts should not have sentenced them and accepted charges that his clients had violated the colonial-era State Secrets Act. “This is an issue related to human rights because journalists have the right to report and write freely—they are not guilty,” he said.

On July 10, a Pakokku Township Court sentenced the journalists and the CEO to 10 years imprisonment with hard labor under State Secrets Act for reporting allegations that a Burma Army facility in Magwe Division was being used to manufacture chemical weapons.

The President’s Office initiated the case against the journalists after the Unity journal published a front-page story about the facility.

On Oct. 2, the Magwe Divisional Court reduced the sentence of the five men from 10 to 7 years’ imprisonment with hard labor following an appeal by the defendants.

The five men are currently being held at Pakokku Prison.

The harsh sentencing of the Unity journalists outraged the Burmese media and rights activists, and has given rise to concerns over a worsening of media freedom under the Thein Sein government, which has initiated a number of criminal cases against several media organizations in the past year and passed controversial media laws.