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Burma Charges Five Journalists for Disclosing 'State Secrets'

Burma has charged four reporters and the chief executive officer of a weekly journal with violating the country's state secret law for publishing a story on an alleged chemical weapons factory.

The case is renewing concerns about media freedom in Burma, also known as Myanmar, which has undergone a series of reforms since direct military rule ended in 2011.

The story, which appeared in the Rangoon-based Unity Journal on January 25, claimed a secret chemical weapons factory was being built in central Burma's Pauk township.

The government has acknowledged that the sprawling, 12-square kilometer facility is a defense ministry factory, but denies it has anything to do with chemical weapons.

The four editors and CEO were arrested last week. State media said late Wednesday they have been charged with disclosing official secrets and trespassing on restricted areas of the factory.

Officials said the charges were brought in accordance with Burma's 90-year-old State Secrets Act, though it is unclear what state secret, if any, was unveiled in the article.

Under the State Secrets Act, the journalists could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted of unlawfully entering a state military facility.

Meanwhile, newspaper vendors said authorities confiscated all copies of the January 25 edition of the Unity Journal.

The moves run counter to the promises of increased media freedom by Burmese President Thein Sein.

Since a nominally civilian government took over in 2011, Burma has introduced a number of media reforms, including ending pre-publication censorship and releasing imprisoned journalists.

However, rights group have complained that journalists continue to be subject to arrest, intimidation, and censorship.

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders ranks Burma 151st out of 179 nations in press freedom.