A Yangon court has sentenced three journalists, an editor, and the owner of the privately-run news journal Bi Mon Te Nay to the maximum two-year prison term under a law prohibiting “publishing statements that could cause public alarm.”

According to the court, a July 7 article in Bi Mon Te Nay violated Article 505(b) of the Penal Code by referencing an activist group that claimed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic political leaders had formed an interim government.

One of the sentenced journalists, Min Watan, told reporters that the sentence constituted a threat to all journalists. “It is not possible to reach democracy while the government is threatening the fourth [estate],” he said. An appeal is planned.

A PEN source in the country explains that “a new and quite ineffective Media Law was passed in Myanmar earlier this year. It includes a specific clause on exactly how these kinds of cases should be handled.” The legislation should have required mediation by the parties, but was refused by the presiding judge in this case. The law, which has yet to take effect, will co-exist with a new, highly problematic Printers and Publications Registration Law and other legislation dating from the colonial era, creating a confusing legal situation for the press.

PEN remains deeply concerned at the growing crackdown on journalists in Myanmar. Five journalists from Unity Journal are serving 10 year sentences for a July report on the displacement of villagers for the construction of an alleged weapons factory and reporter Thura Thet Tin is currently serving a one year prison sentence on charges of trespass, for a report on controversies surrounding the opening of a new government school.