World News

Burma Charges 5 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 secrets 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.

Spokesman Ye Htut told VOA's Burmese service that President Thein Sein discussed the arrests during a meeting with a delegation from Human Rights Watch.



""It has got nothing to do with freedom of expression. It has been taken action against them in accordance with our National Security. However they [those journalists arrested] will have full legal rights to defend themselves. And then we have explained to HRW delegation that they will have free [independent] and fair trial."



The four editors and CEO were arrested last week.

The Myanmar Press Council, which works on behalf of Burmese journalists, says the government could have done a better job at handling the case. Press Council member Zaw Thet Htwe told VOA Burmese that authorities should have been informed his group at the very beginning of the case, instead of after the arrest of the Unity Journal journalists.

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 say authorities have 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.

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

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

(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.)

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs