March 22, 2011 By

Journalists Detained Over ‘Chemical Weapons’ Report

2_9Several Journalists including the Chief Executive of a weekly news journal were arrested in Myanmar after they published accusations against a military facility producing chemical weapons. Five journalists of the Unity Weekly News were arrested on Friday and Saturday facing charges over a report in January.

“Family members were informed last night by the authorities that they could visit them in (Yangon’s) Insein prison and told to hire lawyers,” said Unity editor Aung Thura Ko Ko. “They have been charged under the official secrets act,” he added.

The newspaper had published an article which claimed that the country’s military was running a chemical weapons factory in Pauk, in the central Magway region, under the instructions of former strongman junta chief Than Shwe. Myanmar denied accusations in January last year that it had used chemical weapons against ethnic minority rebels in the northern state of Kachin. After the despotic military rule for nearly five decades which isolated the country, a quasi-civilian government came to power in 2011 bringing about reforms in all areas including easing media restrictions. Detained reporters were freed, draconian pre-publication censorship was ended and private newspapers were allowed to publish daily. The army, which retains a powerful hold over the government and parliament, continues to be accused of rights abuses, particularly in ethnic minority areas.

Neither local police nor the government spokesmen were available to comment on the report or subsequent arrests. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) voiced concern about the developments. “The fact that journalists can be charged with revealing state secrets shows how desperately Burma (Myanmar) needs meaningful legal reform,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior south East Asia representative.

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