News / Asia

Australian Publisher Convicted in Burma, Sentenced to Time Served

Australian journalist Ross Dunkley, co-founder of the Myanmar Times, talks to reporters after his court hearing at Kamaryut township in Yangon, June 30, 2011
Australian journalist Ross Dunkley, co-founder of the Myanmar Times, talks to reporters after his court hearing at Kamaryut township in Yangon, June 30, 2011

A court in Burma has convicted the Australian publisher of the Myanmar Times of minor assault and immigration violations.

The charges

Myanmar Times
publisher Ross Dunkley was convicted of assault and immigration violations, but released in recognition of time served in jail while awaiting trial. Dunkley said the verdict was ridiculous and he would appeal.

Dunkley was arrested February 10, and held at Insein prison until he was released on bail March 29, ostensibly because of a heart condition.

He was charged with assaulting a 29-year-old Burmese woman and holding her against her will in his home. She requested the charges be dropped on February 24, because her pregnancy prevented her from traveling to the proceedings, but the court refused.

The trial was delayed on several occasions, because either witnesses or prosecutors failed to appear in court.

Predetermined verdict?

Dunkley business associate David Armstrong said it seemed to be a predetermined verdict.

“We believed all along that Ross was not guilty of anything so we are a bit disappointed that he was not acquitted, but nevertheless he is free and he is out, and he can continue his work," said Armstrong.

Business dispute

Dunkley and Bill Clough own 49 percent of Myanmar Consolidated Media, the largest privately owned media company in Burma. At the time of his arrest, Dunkley was engaged in a protracted business dispute with the Burmese majority shareholder, Tin Htun Oo.  

The dispute fueled speculation the arrest was the result of a struggle to gain control of the paper. Tin Htun Oo is in charge of the Burmese-language edition of the newspaper and denies he has a dispute with Dunkley.

Zaw Win of Memo98, a Slovakian organization that has been monitoring media freedoms in Burma since the election, said he was pleased Dunkley was not heading back to jail. Although Dunkley was accused in the past of being an apologist for the Burmese regime, Win said his initial arrest had been alarming for all journalists in Burma.

“He plays with fire, you know? Working under the Burmese authorities is not easy," said Win. "My point of view he is a journalist and he has worked in some ways for media freedom.”

The verdict occurred the same day Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd arrived on an official visit to Burma. Rudd is the highest-ranking official from Australia to visit Burma, and is expected to hold talks with top officials.

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