Myanmar journalists on trial for reporting on alleged chemical weapons factory
Myanmar police have charged five journalists with "disclosing state secrets" after their newspaper carried a story about an alleged chemical weapons factory, state media reported yesterday.
The trial of four reporters and the head of Unity Journal began on February 14 in Pakokku, a town in the country's central region where the military facility is located, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
New Light of Myanmar said additional charges under the Official Secrets Act included "trespassing on the restricted area of the factory".
Government spokesman Ye Htut told local media last week that the factory did not produce chemical weapons.
The Committee to Protect Journalists on February 3 called for the suspects' release, saying "journalists should not be threatened or arrested for reporting on topics of national and international importance".
The Unity Journal story claimed the secret facility was built in 2009 and consisted of tunnels burrowed under 1,200 hectares of land, and it quoted workers as saying the factory produced chemical weapons, according to the CPJ.
Myanmar's former junta, which handed power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, has denied accusations that it used chemical weapons against ethnic insurgent groups.
In 2005, rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide said it had interviewed five ethnic Karen rebels who had suffered symptoms consistent with a chemical weapons attack, adding that government soldiers who had defected had told it the use of chemical weapons was widespread.