YANGON - Four journalists and a newspaper boss were sentenced in Myanmar on Thursday to 10 years' jail with hard labour for reporting about an alleged chemical weapons factory, legal and media sources said.
A court in the central town of Pakokku handed down the sentences to four reporters and the chief executive of the Unity newspaper.
Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw, Sithu Soe and Tint San were arrested earlier this year under Myanmar's 1923 Official Secrets Act after reporting that a factory under the control of the Ministry of Defence was producing chemical weapons. The government denied the allegations.
"This is a very dark day for freedom of expression in Myanmar. These five media workers have done nothing but cover a story that is in the public interest," said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.
On Tuesday, media widely reported that three editors from the Bi Mon Te Nay journal had been detained after publishing an article saying opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and some ethnic leaders had been appointed to an interim government.
Myanmar's two-year experiment with press freedom at first moved rapidly under President Thein Sein, a former military commander whose reforms since 2011 have helped persuade Europe and the United States to roll back crippling trade sanctions.
However, a string of arrests over the past seven months have reversed the trend. "The authorities are continuing to rely on draconian laws to silence dissenting views or fair reporting, just like the previous military government did," said Amnesty's Abbott.