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A final appeal against the verdict for five Unity Weekly journal employees — who were sentenced to ten years in prison with hard labour in July — was submitted to Magwe regional court on Thursday.
Following the January publication of a report about an alleged secret chemical weapons facility in central Burma, the four reporters and the journal’s CEO were arrested and charged for trespassing and violation of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Lost time and expenses associated with months of legal proceedings have since caused the journal to cease operations.
The group’s legal counsel, Robert San Aung, submitted the latest appeal to the regional judge, Myint Thein, on Thursday on the grounds that they are innocent. He requested that the four reporters be released from prison and that the sentence of Tint San, the journal’s executive, be reduced by half.
“I appealed to the court that my clients did not commit a crime,” said Robert San Aung. “Dictators believe that journalists should write whatever the government wants. This view has no place in a progressive society. I told them that.”
“Furthermore,” he added, “the area had no signage indicating that it was prohibited. The farmland in this area was seized without any compensation. My clients did not commit a crime. The verdict was wrong and they should be freed.”
Robert San Aung said he hopes that his clients — reporters Lu Maw Naing, Sithu Soe, Aung Thura, Yazar Oo, and CEO Tint Hsan – will be granted amnesty, as President Thein Sein recently vowed to the Interim Press Council that he would try to increase protections for journalists.
The court is expected to issue a decision about the appeal within one month, Robert San Aung said.