A court in Hsipaw Township, Shan State, yesterday returned the personal belongings seized from two DVB journalists and one reporter from The Irrawaddy news agency, bringing to an end a case that began on 26 June when they were jailed for having contact with an illegal organisation.
The trio – DVB’s Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung, and The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng – were arrested at a checkpoint while returning from territory controlled by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in Namhsan Township, Shan State, where they had attended a drug-burning ceremony organised by the ethnic armed group to commemorate the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Along with their drivers, they were charged with “unlawful association.”
The journalists’ detention spurred protests at home in Burma and petitions abroad. Critics pointed to the arrests as an indication that press freedom was being curtailed under the incumbent Aung San Suu Kyi government in similar ways as it had been under the previous era of military dictatorship.
Finally, the Burmese military withdrew the charges against the journalists and their travelling companions on 1 September and they were released from Hsipaw Prison.
The Hsipaw Township court officially dropped all charges on 15 September, saying that – as per court procedures – the collection of personal items that had been confiscated could only be made after 30 days.
On 16 October, the journalists were given back their cameras, mobile phones, press cards and a laptop.
Defence lawyer Khin Mi Mi confirmed that she had collected personal items on behalf of Lawi Weng as The Irrawaddy reporter is currently recovering from a kidney operation.