Five staff members of the now defunct Bi-Mon Te Nay weekly news journal have been found guilty of sedition charges and sentenced to two years each in prison by Rangoon’s Pabedan Township Court.
Kyaw Win, a defence lawyer for the five – two editors, one reporter and two publishers – said the court on Thursday found them guilty for “defamation of the state” under *Article 505(b) of the penal code.
“They were given the maximum sentence under Article 505(b) – two years each in prison,” he said.
The charges were levied after Bi-Mon Te Nay (literally Bi-Midday Sun news journal) published a report in July repeating an activist group’s claims that Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had teamed up with several ethnic politicians to form an interim government.
Kyaw Win said the defence team had previously appealed for the five defendants to be charged under the Media Law, but the motion was denied. He said they are now preparing to appeal to a higher court.
Zaw Thet Htwe, a news editor and spokesperson for Burma’s Interim Press Council, said he was frustrated to hear the verdict.
“The sentencing of Bi-Mon Te Nay staffers indicates a lack of communication and coordination between the country’s three estates, and it gives me the impression that the judicial sector is not very fond of the media,” he said.
The Bi-Mon Te Nay staff were initially charged under articles 5(d) and 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act: for causing public alarm and undermining security of the state. Those charges were dropped in favour of Article 505(b) in August.
The news journal has suspended operations since the staff were indicted and equipment seized by the police.
Activist Htin Kyaw of the Myanmar Democratic Current Force group was sentenced to one year in prison with hard labour in August for distributing leaflets claiming that Suu Kyi and several ethnic politicians had performed a coup in overthrowing the ruling government and forming their own interim government. He and co-defendant Naung Naung on Wednesday appeared in Kyauktada Township Court where they were facing further charges.
*Burmese penal code Article 505(b): “Intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity.”