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50 Burmese reporters face charges over protest against "Unity" journal sentences

Journalists protest in front of Myanmar Peace Center where President Thein Sein met with Myanmar's film stars, in Yangon, 12 July 2014
Journalists protest in front of Myanmar Peace Center where President Thein Sein met with Myanmar's film stars, in Yangon, 12 July 2014

REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The Myanmar Journalist Network says it will support any reporters charged over a peaceful protest against the sentences in the Unity journal case held outside a Yangon event being attended by President U Thein Sein on July 12, 2014.

Police said they had opened cases against about 50 reporters under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Act after they held a sit-down protest against the sentences outside the Myanmar Peace Center while President U Thein Sein was attending a cultural event.

The reporters, who had been denied entry to the event, wore black T-shirts bearing the slogan 'Stop oppression of the press' in Myanmar and some had symbolically covered the mouths in black tape.

Convictions under Section 18 carry a maximum penalty of one year's imprisonment and a fine of K30,000 (about US$31).

"We will work with any journalist who faces legal action for participating in this demonstration," Myanmar Journalist Association general secretary U Myint Kyaw told Mizzima on July 14.

He was speaking a day after Deputy Inspector Han Tun Aung from Kamayut police station told Myanmar that he had opened cases against 50 reporters but only three had so far been identified, including Thamagga News Journal chief reporter Ma Shwe Hmon.

"We will use photographic and police records to identify the other reporters involved," said Police Deputy-Inspector Han Tun Aung.

Ma Shwe Hmon said she was surprised to learn that she faced charges under Section 18 because the event at the Myanmar Peace Center was in a public area.

"We did not force our way in and remained outside the building," she said.

Ma Shwe Hmon said she would not be deterred from doing her job by intimidation from the government.

A court at Pakkoku in Magway Region on July 10 sentenced the chief executive officer of Unity journal and four reporters to 10 years' jail with hard labour over a report carried by the weekly publication in January that a military factory was producing chemical weapons.

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