Two DVB reporters, an Irrawaddy journalist and three other men were in Hsipaw courthouse today to hear that charges against them under the Unlawful Association Act have been officially withdrawn.
The judgment brings to an end an ordeal that began when the six were arrested by the Burmese military at a roadblock on 26 June while travelling back from a drug-burning ceremony in northern Shan State organised by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic armed group that holds territory in the area. A seventh detainee – the driver of one of the vehicles – was released soon after.
“All six of us who were charged under Article 17(1) –the Unlawful Association Act – have been exonerated,” said DVB’s veteran reporter Aye Naing. “The only thing remaining now is to collect our personal belongings which were confiscated; that will take about a month. But our ID cards were handed back today.”
Maung Maung Win, the lawyer for both DVB journalists, said, “The case has finally come to an end. This is such an auspicious day.”
The defence lawyer noted that one of the reasons for their acquittal was that the TNLA is currently engaged in peace talks with the government.
“Since this is now a time for peace negotiations in our country, we can say that the charges were dropped for the sake of peace-building.”
Mai San Nyunt was one of the other men arrested on 26 June. He was one of the drivers. Speaking today after charges against him had been formally withdrawn, he said, “I had never been put in such situation in my life. I didn’t even know what Article 17(1) was. It was the first time I had been to the Ta’ang area. I just gave the journalists a lift back in my car.”