A remand hearing was called today for three journalists who were arrested last week in Shan State and charged under the Unlawful Association Act.
The impromptu hearing, which was not scheduled to be held until 11 July in Namhsan Township, took place this morning at Hsipaw township court.
A police officer from Hsipaw township police station confirmed to DVB that the remand hearing was held today for the three journalists, as well as three civilians who were apprehended alongside the trio at a military checkpoint on the road between Namhsan and Hsipaw.
“Yes, I can confirm that Hsipaw township court has remanded them in custody until their trial starts on 21 July,” he said by telephone. “But I don’t know yet where the next court procedure will take place.”
Last Monday, two reporters from DVB, Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung, and Lawi Weng from The Irrawaddy, were detained by the Burmese military while they were returning from an event in an area under the control of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). They were charged under the Unlawful Association Act.
Also today, a Burmese commission for the assessment of legal affairs recommended amendments to the controversial Unlawful Association Act, which critics and legal experts say has been used arbitrarily by authorities in recent years to curb freedoms of expression.
Commission chairman Shwe Mann, who was speaker of the lower house under the previous ruling administration, said on Friday that the Unlawful Association Act was adopted from India in 1908, but needed to be amended to suit the current political climate.
“We think we should amend this law,” he said. “[National] unity should be the precedent for peace.”
Last week’s arrest marked the first time that journalists had been apprehended by the Burmese army for attending an event in an “outlawed” ethnic army area.
However, in 2015, two interfaith activists were sentenced to two years imprisonment each for travelling on a peace trip to Kachin Independence Army territory.
Section 17 (1) of Unlawful Association Act states that action can be taken against anyone who takes part in meetings of any unlawful organisation or has any association with such a group. Sentences for those convicted may be a minimum of two years and maximum of three years in prison.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, a representative of the International Commission of Jurists said that the authorities in Burma had failed to respect the rights of the three journalists by holding them incommunicado for two days.
Sean Bain, Legal Consultant in Myanmar for the International Commission of Jurists, told DVB that last week’s arrest and detention of the three journalists without access to legal assistance was a violation of their rights, including the constitutional right to freedom from arbitrary detention.
“The prospect of facing criminal charges for lawfully reporting on issues without malice and in the public interest will have a chilling effect on the media’s exercise of free expression in Myanmar. Myanmar should immediately release the journalists and provide them with appropriate remedies and reparations,” he said.
Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said at a press conference yesterday in Naypyidaw that her administration did not intend to interfere in the case and that it was a matter for the judiciary.