A Myanmar court on July 10 sentenced five journalists to 10 years in prison and hard labor after reports that a government factory was planned to manufacture chemical weapons.
The New York Times reported that the Unity Weekly magazine that employed the journos – four reporters and its CEO -- was forced to close in June partly because of legal expenses from the case. The Times said that Burmese journalists are concerned that the government is reverting to its media crackdown days under the junta that previously ruled Myanmar.
“If media freedoms are used to endanger state security rather than give benefits to the country, I want to announce that effective action will be taken under existing laws,” President Thein Sein said in a nationally broadcast speech on Monday.
The journalists were charged with violating the 1923 Burma State Secrets Act, passed when Myanmar was a British colony of that name.
President Barack Obama visited the country in 2012 and praised its progress in opening up politically, but the administration in March extended sanctions against the country because of crackdowns on Muslims and other human rights concerns.
The Burmese government denies chemical weapons were processed in the factory named in the Unity reports.
Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Reporters Without Borders' Asia-Pacific Desk, said: "Progress had been made but this case marks a return to a dark time when journalists and bloggers who did their job were jailed on national security charges or for allegedly trying to overthrow the government."