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A hearing for three journalists accused of consorting with a rebel Palaung group has been set for 11 July.
The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng and DVB’s Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung, along with three civilians, were charged today under the Unlawful Association Act and are being transferred to Hsipaw prison in Shan State at the time of press.
Lawyer Robert San Aung said that the Burmese military should not be taking action under Article 17 (1) of the Unlawful Association Act, and that matters involving members of the press should be handled as per the media law.
“They are not criminals,” he said. “They were just doing their jobs in the public interest.
“Journalists are working for the fulfillment of the public’s right to knowledge. The Burmese military should be considerate towards this case,” he told DVB this afternoon after hearing of the charges, which could lead to sentences of up to three years in prison.
Zeyar Hlaing, general secretary of Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN), said that the authorities appear to be oppressing journalists in Burma, and that this will affect freedom of press across the country.
“The relevant news organisations released statements saying that the three men are journalists and went there [to the Palaung area] to cover the news,” he said. “But now the authorities have filed a lawsuit [against them]. This is oppression of the media.”
Lawi Weng, Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung had travelled to the remote Palaung region to cover a drug-burning ceremony that was being held to mark the UN’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
Burma’s military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has described the Palaung rebels, known as the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, as a “terrorist group”.
They were arrested and detained, alongside four civilians, on Monday while returning from the event.
Police in Shan State have told DVB that the three journalists are in good health.