The Unity Journal on 25 January 2014 published an article alleging that a military facility in Magway Region was being used for the making of chemical weapons. The officer responsible for the factory then brought a criminal case against the journal director and reporters for allegedly breaching state secrets, taking photographs of the facility without permission, and publishing the article without first obtaining approval.
However, the arrested men were not actually sending any secret documents by spying to other powerful countries. They were merely trying to acquire information concerning land confiscating by the military, police, ministries, the army holding company, and businessmen.
Furthermore, the manner of their arrest, detention and prosecution is not procedurally correct. According to the Burma Official Secrets Act 1923, the police need an order from the Minister of Home Affairs to investigate. After investigation, if detention is necessary the police need permission from a concerned court to arrest with warrant. However, the journalists had been arrested during the period when the army officer made a complaint against them, which is opposed to the provisions of the law. The Minister of Home Affairs gave an order to prosecute only some 14 days after the men had already been arrested.
On top of this problem, no evidence exists that the factory concerned constitutes a facility that should be subject to the terms of the Burma Official Secrets Act. For one thing, it is still under construction and even the buildings have not been finished yet. Local people and farmers said in court that no signboard or any notification near the factory area states that the area of the factory is a prohibited place. The factory workers also don’t have any employee cards given by the factory. Moreover, villagers pass near the factory area everyday without any type of restrictions placed on their movements.
Lastly, Special Branch (SB) police officers have allegedly forced three of the accused to confess and have used their confessions against them in court in violation of law. The wife of one of the accused men also was detained for a time during the investigation.
Despite the changed political conditions in Myanmar, still many journalists and writers are facing legal actions for doing nothing other than exercising their right to free expression. For instance, Ma Khine, a journalist with Eleven Media, was sentenced to jail over a story of alleged judicial corruption by accusing her of interfering with the duties of public service personnel. Journalist with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) Ko Zaw Phay and parents of school children who tried to get information on choosing scholarship awards to go to Japan from the Magway Regional Education Office also were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.