Yangon -

A Myanmar court on Thursday sentenced five journalists to a decade in prison with hard labour over a newspaper report alleging that a military facility was producing chemical weapons, their lawyer said.

The reporters for the Unity Weekly News were jailed by a court in central Magway region under the former junta-run country's official secrets act, amid concerns that Myanmar is backsliding on press freedoms.

“All five journalists were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment,” said lawyer Wah Win Maung, who is acting on behalf of four of the men.

“This verdict is legally wrong. We will appeal,” he told AFP.

The jailed men, who include the chief executive of the Unity Weekly News, were arrested in February just days after the article was published.

It alleged that the country's military was operating a chemical weapons factory in the town of Pauk in Magway, under the instructions of former strongman junta chief Than Shwe.

Myanmar's military ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly five decades, banning dissent and imprisoning critics and journalists.

A new quasi-civilian regime came to power in 2011 and has won praise with reforms including freeing political prisoners and lifting draconian pre-publication censorship.

But rights groups have highlighted mounting concerns over press freedoms, after several cases of criminal prosecutions against journalists. - Sapa-AFP