A court in central Myanmar handed harsh sentences to four journalists of the Unity Journal and the weekly newspaper's owner in what has been widely considered a landmark case in the Southeast Asian country undergoing political reforms.
The Pakkoku District court in central Myanmar’s Magway Division found the five men guilty of leaking state secrets and sentenced them to ten years in prison on Thursday.
The charges relate to two reports in the Yangon-based Unity Journal earlier this year.
The reports identified an alleged chemical weapons factory near Pakkoku. The reports said the facility was run with the assistance of China, Yangon’s the country’s largest supplier of military equipment.
The journalists pleaded not guilty in the trial that began in March.
Robert Sann Aung, a lawyer for one of the five defendants, said the verdict was a surprise. "This is a very big punishment for them," he said. "I expected they'd be punished for trespassing and serve three months."
Only in March, the country’s military-backed government enacted its first media law, designed to ensure freedom of the press, after nearly five decades of censorship and harsh restrictions under military rule.
The five will appeal the sentence, the lawyer said.