The Unity Five
In July 2014, Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo (also seen as Ya Zar Oo), Paing Thet Kyaw (aka Aung Thura), and Sithu Soe, journalists at the newspaper Unity, along with the CEO, Tint San, were sentenced to seven years in prison with hard labor. They were released on April 17, 2016, along with 78 other political prisoners, as part of a pardon signed by new president Htin Kway.
On January 31, 2014, journalist Lu Maw Naing was arrested without warrant by the Special Branch Police and detained at Pakokku prison. Three other reporters with Unity, Ya Zar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw, Sithu Soe, and the Unity CEO, Tint San, were arrested the next day and transferred to Pakokku prison. A few days earlier, on January 24, 2014, Unity published a front-page exposé about an alleged secret chemical weapons factory in Magwe Region, Myanmar. The Myanmar authorities denied allegations that they had seized copies of Unity across the country in an attempt to quash circulation of the story. According to an announcement on February 16, 2014, the Myanmar authorities revealed that the five individuals were arrested for “disclosing State secrets, trespassing on the restricted area of the factory, taking photographs and the act of abetting” and were charged under Article 3(1) A/p of Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.
On July 10, 2014, Pakokku district court sentenced the five men to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor, which was later reduced to seven years’ imprisonment on October 2, 2014, by the Magwe Regional Court. They were released on April 17, 2016, along with 78 other political prisoners as part of a pardon signed by new president Htin Kway. Their release comes just weeks after the country’s first non-military government came to power after almost five decades. The Unity 5 case was featured in PEN’s 2015 report Unfinished Freedom: A Blueprint for the Future of Free Expression in Myanmar.