YANGON - Myanmar, also known as Burma, has sentenced four journalists and a magazine publisher to 10 years in prison violating the nation's State Secrets Act.
Executive Editor Tint San and four reporters of the Unity Journal were arrested in January this year after they ran a report about a suspected chemical and weapon factory in northern Myanmar.
Defense lawyer Kyaw Lin told VOA's Burmese service he hopes the verdict will eventually be reversed on appeal.
"We can still appeal this verdict, first to the division court and then up to the Union Supreme Court. I will do this if the clients wish so, but I am not very hopeful at the first step and bit more optimistic with the second step," said Kyaw Lin.
Myanmar Press Council (MPC) Secretary Zaw Thet Htwe criticized the harsh sentences and said they will harm the working relationship between the media and the government.
"We the MPC are very much disappointed about the severe imprisonment," he said. "Again, this case will severely reduce mutual trust between the two sides in the democratization process."
Reporters without Borders says it is outraged by the verdicts. Asia Director Benjamin Ismail told VOA his group will help with the appeal.
"We believe its a huge step backwards for press freedom in Burma and we strongly condemn this decision and call for the immediate cancellation of this decision," he said.
The case has renewed concerns about media freedom in Myanmar, which has undergone a series of reforms since direct military rule ended in 2011.
The story, which appeared in the Yangon-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.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.