Charges against five employees of the Bi Mon Te Nay news journal (literally Bi Midday Sun news journal) and one activist were reduced by a Pabedan district court in Rangoon on Monday, limiting their potential jail terms to two years as the controversial trial continues.
The charges, which originally carried sentences of up to seven years for undermining state security, were levied against the journal’s staff and the activist after Bi Mon Te Nay published an article citing a false report by the Myanmar Democratic Current Force (MDCF) claiming that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had teamed up with a group of ethnic leaders in forming an interim government to depose the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party government.
The seven now face charges for violating article 505(b) of Burma’s penal code, which penalises defamation of the state.
Legal counsel for the accused, Robert San Aung, confirmed on Monday that the charges had been reduced against his clients.
“The police’s Special Intelligence Department, the prosecutor in this case, changed the charges against the group as advised by the judicial office,” he said.
Seven employees of Bi Mon Te Nay news journal– editors Ye Min Aung and Win Tin, editor-in-chief Aung Thant, owner Kyaw Min Khine, his wife Ei Ei San, office manager Yin Min Tun and reporter Kyaw Zaw Hein — originally faced charges. Naung Naung, a member of the MDCF, was also arraigned for MDCF’s claims, on which Bi-Mon Te Nay’s report was based.
Ye Min Aung and Ei Ei San have since been discharged due to a lack of incriminating evidence.
Naung Naing, it was announced on Monday, will face a separate trial in Kyauktada Township court.
Several of the publication’s editors were detained by Rangoon police the day after publication, while the owner, his wife and the office manager were arrested on 16 July in the Thai border town of Mae Sot with the assistance of Thai officials.
The case is the latest in a growing list of prosecutions against media workers. In perhaps the most egregious, five employees of the Unity Weekly journal sentenced on 10 July to ten years in prison with hard labour on charges of trespassing and violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Criticism immediately erupted from local and international rights groups and media advocacy organisations, prompting demonstrations over which about 50 other journalists may now face unlawful assembly charges.
Burma’s Interim Press Council, a semi-independent press oversight body established in 2012, met with President Thein Sein on 1 August to discuss what they see as a withdrawal of freedoms. The president committed to ensuring that the Press Council will have powers to mediate future disputes involving the media.
The Bi Mon Te Nay news journal has suspended operations since the staff were indicted and equipment was seized by the police.