A case filed against more than 50 journalists in mid-July for a demonstration demanding greater media freedoms has been dropped, according to Rangoon’s Kamayut Township police.
The journalists had previously been identified, questioned and charged with violating Article 18 of Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, for participating in an unpermitted demonstration.
The protestors assembled in front of the Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC) on 12 July during a visit by President Thein Sein, demanding amnesty for five employees of the Unity Weekly news journal who had just been sentenced to ten years in jail with hard labour for an investigative report alleging the existence of a chemical weapons facility in central Burma’s Magwe.
The group, donning shirts that read “stop killing press”, taped their mouths shut and put down their recording devices as the president met with celebrities on the MPC premises, which was established as venue for the country’s peace negotiations.
Deputy Station Officer Maung Maung Oo, who levied the charges, told DVB that the case was dismissed on 21 August, but that future demonstrations will be treated similarly.
“We haven’t brought the case to court, and we have stopped the police investigation. But as we all have to live under the law, anyone who breaks the law again will be charged,” he said.
Shwe Hmon was one of the 50 journalists who were charged. He said that the case shows abuse of power and that the authorities are not transparent enough about their processes.
“Authorities always use their power… They didn’t send us official letters about the charges. Now they have dismissed the case without informing us. We, the media, can’t understand the laws and systems of power in our country,” he said.
The case was dismissed after President Thein Sein met with members of the Ministry of Information and the Interim Press Council earlier this month, at which the president vowed to do his best to ensure protection for journalists.
Recent jailing of journalists in Burma has prompted international outcry and warnings that the country could be backsliding on reforms. While major media reforms, such as the disbandment of Burma’s notorious pre-publication censorship board in August 2012, caused a wave of early optimism, disputes over new regulations and an apparent targeting of media workers has cast doubt on the government’s commitment to establishing a free press.