Myanmar Sentences Five Journalists to 10 Years Prison and Hard Labor

The head of a newspaper and four of its reporters were sentenced to 10 years of prison and hard labor by a court in Myanmar today following a report the group published exposing a supposedly secret government chemical weapons factory. The Burmese government has denied the existence of such a factory.

"This is injustice!" Tint Hsan, the chief executive of the weekly Unity newspaper, shouted as he was led out of court. "This is an attempt to control the press!"

Press freedoms were finally ushered into the country three years ago when President Thein Sein took office and came after five decades of censorship of the country's press. Statements made by Sein Monday, however, have raised concerns amongst Burmese media.

"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," Sein said. More from the New York Times:

The case comes amid concerns among journalists here that the government, which is led by former military officers, is reverting to tactics of intimidation toward the news media. The Special Branch of the police force, a unit feared during military rule, has visited the newsrooms of a number of publications in recent weeks and asked to see financial records. A journalist for the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Burmese online news site, was jailed earlier this year for trespassing and disturbing the work of a civil servant.

"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," Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia-Pacific Director told Reuters.

The lawyer representing the journalists has said that they plan to appeal the ruling.

[Image via AP]