Magwe Regional Court on Thursday reduced the sentences of five members of the now defunct Unity Journal to seven years following an appeal.
The five individuals— CEO Tint Hsan and reporters Lu Maw Naing, Sithu Soe, Aung Thura and Yazar Oo—were initially given a 10-year jail sentence in July after being found guilty of “exposing state secrets” following the journal’s publishing of an article alleging the existence of a secret chemical weapons factory in central Burma.
According to the wife of convicted reporter Lu Maw Naing, the regional court reduced the sentences on Thursday morning. However, she said, the five have vowed to lodge another appeal in Burma’s Supreme Court in Naypyidaw because “their sentences are not in line with freedom of the press”.
The decision to reduce the defendants’ sentences to seven years came after a two-month-long appeal process.
Lawyer Robert San Aung, who represents the four Unity reporters but not CEO Tint Hsan, told DVB on Thursday that “The sentences were reduced from ten to seven years after a successful appeal process.”
The lawyer said that his argument on appeal was that the original sentences constituted a breach of right to free speech enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.*
Robert San Aung also told DVB that he still hasn’t received a certified copy of the court judgment.
“As soon as I get the court judgment I will file an appeal for a ‘criminal revision’ at the Supreme Court in Naypyidaw. That should be in another two weeks’ time,” he said.
“Once again I will base our appeal on the human rights charter.”
DVB asked Robert San Aung why the sentence was only reduced by three years on appeal.
“I believe the divisional administration has undue influence over the court,” he responded.
The Unity Journal article, which the government contended was an illegal exposure of state secrets, has attracted international attention. In June, the Italian town of Sala Baganza awarded honorary citizenship to the four journalists and Unity Weekly’s former CEO.
Speaking to DVB in June, the Italian town’s mayor Cristina Merusi said: “Freedom of information is the basis of democracy in a free country. To support this freedom that we have through journalism and those who practice it, we decided to honour the five journalists of Unity Weekly in Burma through an act which for us is very important— honorary citizenship of our town.”
*Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.