Pre-trial detention extended for journalist trio in unexpected hearing

By FRONTIER STAFF

YANGON — Three journalists arrested late last month after returning from an armed group ceremony in Shan State unexpectedly had their pre-trial detention extended on Thursday, after being summoned to court without their legal counsel present.

Ko Lawi Weng of The Irrawaddy, DVB reporters U Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Phone Aung, and three others detained alongside the trio were brought before the Hsipaw Township court late on Tuesday morning for a short hearing to postpone their expected appearance on Friday.

Presiding judge U Kyaw Thu Moe told the six men that the beginning had been postponed until July 28, more than a month after their arrests, because he planned to attend a training workshop scheduled on the original court date.

Outside the court, the trio were defiant.

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“Look here,” Lawi Weng told a DVB news team who had scrambled to the court, gesturing to the handcuffs and chains that linked the six defendants. “Can anybody say this is democracy? This is the threat of the military … they have threatened us, but we’re not afraid.”

“That guy is a drummer, that one is an artist, and this guy was our driver,” he added, referring to the trio’s co-defendants. “They were only arrested for being in the same car as us. They are innocent.”

The reporters were detained by the soldiers from the Myanmar Army on June 26 after returning from an opium poppy bonfire in Namhsan Township, organised by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. After two days held at an military camp, they were transferred to police custody in nearby Hsipaw.

All six men face a minimum two-year sentence after being charged under the Unlawful Associations Act.

Legal experts have questioned the lawfulness of the reporters’ arrests, citing a provision of the 2014 News Media Law that exempts journalists from detention while covering conflicts.

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