The trial of five media workers representing Burmese journal Unity Weekly began on Friday, according to a report on Sunday by state-run The New Light of Myanmar.
The group was arrested on 30-31 January following the 25 January publication of a report titled “Secret Chemical Weapon [built] by the Former Senior-General, Chinese Technicians and the Current [Burmese Military] Commander in Chief”.
The report alleged that the facility spanned 3,000 acres, housed rockets and was heavily guarded by uniformed troops. Police across the country seized circulating copies of the 25 January edition.
The New Light of Myanmar reported that journalists Lu Maw Naing, Sithu Soe, Aung Thura and The Yazar Oo face the charge of “disclosing state secrets” as well as trespassing under Article 3(a) of the Official Secrets Act (1923).
CEO Tin Hsan faces the charge of “disclosing State secrets” as well as abetting the act of trespass.
The Act provides for a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
Presidential spokesperson Ye Htut has since denied that the factory, located in Pauk, Magwe Division, produces chemical weapons. “Our country is a signatory state for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – it was just a defence-related factory, but not a chemical weapons factory.” Ye Htut told DVB in a phone interview last week.
Burma is a signatory to the convention, but has not yet ratified the CWC by passing its edicts into law.
Lwin Lwin Myint, wife of arrested journalist Lu Maw Naing, was also apprehended for questioning after attempting to visit her husband on 2 February following his 30 January arrest. She was freed two days later. The New Light of Myanmar stated in a report that she was released due to insufficient evidence.
Editor’s note, 18 March 2014: The article cited here, published in The New Light of Myanmar on 14 February 2014, incorrectly stated that the the Unity trial proceedings had begun. It has come to our attention that the defendants were arraigned on 14 February, but the trial had not started.