BURMA: An editor sentenced to 13 years over alleged anti-government activity 

The Asian Human Rights Commission has followed the case of Nyi Nyi Htun, the editor of a Karenni state-based news journal, who was charged for upsetting public tranquility by sending news reports outside Burma. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison on 13 October 2010 by the Seikkan Township court.

Police officers from the Yangon Division Police Chief Office arrested Nyi Nyi Htun in Thingangyun Township of Yangon Division upon suspicion of having connections with a series of bomb blasts in Yangon in October 2009. Nyi Nyi Htun was kept in police custody and tortured continuously for six days at the Yangon Divisional Police Headquarters. The police later confiscated a computer, a memory stick and other documents at his house.

The ALRC, the AHRC’s sister organization, has already submitted a statement to UN Human Rights Council regarding the brutal torture Nyi Nyi Htun has been exposed to. Kindly note ALRC-CWS-15-05-2010.

Nyi Nyi Htun was charged for being involved with an illegal organizations based at the Thai-Burma boarder under section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, section 13(1) of the Immigration Emergency Provisions Act, section 6(1) of the Wireless Act. Further he was charged with upsetting public tranquility under section 505(b) of the Penal Code.

The evidence presented in court by the police includes documents taken from Nyi Nyi Htun’s email account, which was stored on the memory stick. According to the Police the documents allegedly reveal that Nyi Nyi Htun illegally had gone to Mae Sot at the Thailand-Burma boarder several times, where he met with anti-government groups, whom he allegedly received money from.

According to Nyi Nyi Htun none of the documents seized from his computer and memory stick can be used as documentation for him being involved in terror acts, having traveled to the border or having met with any anti-government groups. Apparently the stamp showing his allegedly entrance at the bridge on the boarder between Burma and Thailand shows a date, where he had already been imprisoned.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Thomas Ojea Quintana states that in the case of Nyi Nyi Htun several domestic laws have been used to restrict freedom of expression and assembly. These include the Unlawful Association Act (1908), the State Protection Act (1975) and sections 143, 145, 152, 295(A), 505, 505(b). In his report to the UN Human Rights Council published in March 2010, Quintana emphasizes, “As a State Member of the United Nations, Myanmar should have ensured compliance of its domestic laws with its international obligations, according to the principles of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties”.

Burma is doubtlessly a dangerous place to be a reporter. Journalists among others who send and receive information outside the country are often imprisoned under security measurements such as the State Protection Act claiming to prevent terrorism. There have even been reports on journalists being arrested simply for taking photos of the area affected by the cyclone in 2008 or for reporting on bomb attacks. Kindly see AHRC-UAC-023-2010. 

These arrest and imprisonments strongly oppose the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which present everyone with the freedom to hold opinions without interference, the right to assembly and to seek and receive information and ideas through different media regardless of frontiers.

The Burmese Military regime continues to harass all freethinking people as the case of Nyi Nyi Htun clearly illustrates. Similar absurd and undue sentences are daily handed out for petty crimes in Burma. The sentences are indicators of deep-rooted systemic problems across institutions in the country, where military rule has wiped out most of the framework for a system based on rule of law. While this framework and the concept it was build on have broken down in Burma, so has the logic in which the regime operates.

People in the country have no way to escape from this abnormal and irrational situation. The judicial system is tremendously politicized and the Burmese courts hold almost no judicial power. It only has power to convict and act on the will of the regime. No checks and balances are available within the system and institutions set up to monitor courts and judges have been dismissed long ago.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the international community to condemn the torture and undue conviction of Nyi Nyi Htun and demand an independent and qualified investigation into the case in accordance with international law to ensure the safety of all journalists, the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression in Burma.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-217-2010
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Freedom of expression,