BURMA: Citizen-journalist sentenced to 13 years for non-existent illegal video footage


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-023-2010
ISSUES: Administration of justice, Freedom of association, Institutional reform, Judicial system, Rule of law,

Dear friends, 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has obtained the details of the case against a journalist who has been imprisoned in Burma for sending video footage abroad. Ngwe Soe Linn was sentenced to 13 years in jail for supposedly sending illegal clips and going illegally into Thailand, even though there was no evidence against him for either of the charges, and despite the fact that he was tried in a closed court in violation of the domestic law. 


Ngwe Soe Linn was arrested at an Internet shop in Rangoon on 26 June 2009 and thereafter charged with having sent illegal video footage to the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) media group, which is based outside the country. The police also charged him with having gone illegally to Thailand to attend training with the DVB. Another person arrested with him at the time was released without charge from a special interrogation centre at the end of August. 

After police arrested Ngwe Soe Linn they went to get his video camera from his house, but the only footage on it was concerning a water outage in his area of the city. The police did not collect any evidence from the Internet shop with which to make a case, nor for that matter, any evidence of his supposed travel to Thailand. The only material submitted to the court on this point was a document from the immigration department stating that he had not legally crossed a bridge into Thailand, which in itself proves nothing. 

Notwithstanding this, on January 27 a district court judge convicted Ngwe Soe Linn to 13 years imprisonment; the trial was held inside the central prison, preventing him from making an effective defence. 

Further details of the case, charges and officials involved are provided in the sample letter below. 


Ngwe Soe Linn received an award in 2009 from the Rory Peck Trust for his footage of Cyclone Nargis orphans, which was shown on television stations abroad. 

His brother, Ko Aung Htun Myint, is currently serving a three-year sentence on one of the same charges as Ngwe Soe Linn, after he was arrested and convicted in another evidence-less case: for filming people voting during the 2008 referendum on a new constitution (UAC-040-2009). During the latest trial the judge pointed to the conviction of Ngwe Soe Linn’s brother as a ground to convict him too, even though it was completely irrelevant and should never have been raised in court. 


Journalists and other persons sending information abroad or taking video footage of things without authorisation are often imprisoned in Burma; see for instance the cases in these appeals: UAC-009-2009UAC-223-2008UAC-200-2008

Since 2005 the AHRC has issued over 150 detailed appeals and updates on a wide variety of human rights cases in Burma. To browse these, go to the appeals homepage and type “Burma” or “Myanmar” into the search box: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/. See also articles and special reports on the article 2 website:http://www.article2.org/search.php again search for Burma/Myanmar; and, see the 2009 AHRC annual report on Burma

The AHRC Burmese-language blog, Pyithu Hittaing, is also updated constantly for Burmese-language readers, and covers the contents of urgent appeal cases, related news, and special analysis pieces. 


Please write to the persons listed below to call for the release of Ngwe Soe Linn. Please note that for the purposes of the letter Burma is referred to by its official name, Myanmar. 

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar, freedom of expression, and the independence of judges and lawyers, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the regional human rights office for Southeast Asia calling for interventions into this case.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear ___________, 

MYANMAR: Citizen journalist given 13 years’ jail in another evidence-less trial 

Details of detainee: 
Ngwe Soe Linn, 28; a resident of Ward 22, South Dagon Township, Yangon 
Special Branch officers concerned: 
1. Police Major Win Kywei, prosecuting officer 
2. Inspector Kyaw Soe, arresting officer 

Charges & trial: 
Section 33(a) of the Electronic Transactions Law 2004, and section 13(1) of the Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act 1947, Yangon Western District Court Criminal Case Nos. 79 & 80/2009, Judge U Myint San (Deputy District Judge) presiding, heard inside Insein Prison, sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on 27 January 2010 

I deeply regret to hear of the conviction of another person in Myanmar in an evidence-free case, due to alleged activities that the state deems threatening, in this instance the recording and sending of supposedly illegal video footage. 

According to the information I have received, Ngwe Soe Linn was arrested at an Internet shop in Maggin Road, Tamwe Township of Yangon on 26 June 2009 on charges of having gone for video editing and reporter training at the office of the Democratic Voice of Burma in Mae Sot, Thailand, and then unlawfully reentering Myanmar, both than month and one time previously in March/April 2008. He was further charged with having sent illegal video footage to the DVB. 

What does this illegal video footage constitute? I have learned that police seized the video camera concerned after Ngwe Soe Linn’s arrest, but that the only recorded contents concerned the cutting of water supplies in South Dagon. Shortages and outages of water and electricity supplies in Yangon are topics that not only are not illegal but that are covered in private domestic news journals and magazines. 

During the trial the arresting officer testified that he found the accused at the Internet shop sending information by computer illegally, but gave no details of the method of computer use or other technical evidence to support the claim. 

Nor was there admissible evidence concerning the alleged illegal travel to Thailand. No immigration officials from the concerned office attended the court to testify and present evidence, and instead just sent a document that they had no record of him using the authorized entry and exit point. This is unacceptable evidence by itself because the defendant did not have a chance to exercise his right to cross-examine any prosecution witness over the document. Nor does it prove anything by itself. 

I note further that not only is there no legal provision for the holding of criminal trials inside prisons in the manner of this case, despite the courts in Myanmar repeatedly doing so, but that it also violates the basic principle of the Judiciary Law 2000 that trials be conducted in open. In this case, the consequence of the closed hearing was that the accused was able to call only one witness for his defence. 

Another anomaly in this case was that the judge in his verdict referred to an earlier trial concerning Ngwe Soe Linn’s brother, who was also convicted in an evidence-free case under the Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act 1947 for allegedly traveling to Thailand illegally, even though there was no direct connection between that case and this one. 

Accordingly, I call for the release of both Ngwe Soe Linn and his brother, Ko Aung Htun Myint, who is presently serving a three-year sentence, without delay. 

It is due to cases like these that Myanmar’s reputation for denial of the freedom of expression to citizens is among the worst in the world. Although it has been this way for some time, I would have expected that in a year that the government has announced that it plans to hold an election for a new parliament, it would consider the further damage caused to that reputation by the needless prosecution of cases like this one. I regret that it so far it appears to have not made this connection and hope that it will understand that until its citizenry are able to speak openly and until arbitrarily detained persons such as Ngwe Soe Linn are released from custody, any attempts at effecting political change through elections will be rightly taken in the international community as a sham. 

Finally, I take this opportunity to remind the Government of Myanmar of the need to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to places of detention, in accordance with its globally recognized mandate, without any further delay. 

Yours sincerely, 



1. Maj-Gen. Maung Oo 
Minister for Home Affairs 
Ministry of Home Affairs 
Office No. 10 
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663 
Fax: +95 67 412 439 

2. Lt-Gen. Thein Sein 
Prime Minister 
c/o Ministry of Defence 
Tel: + 95 1 372 681 
Fax: + 95 1 652 624 

3. U Aung Toe 
Chief Justice 
Office of the Supreme Court 
Office No. 24 
Tel: + 95 67 404 080/ 071/ 078/ 067 or + 95 1 372 145 
Fax: + 95 67 404 059 

4. U Aye Maung 
Attorney General 
Office of the Attorney General 
Office No. 25 
Tel: +95 67 404 088/ 090/ 092/ 094/ 097 
Fax: +95 67 404 146/ 106 

5. Brig-Gen. Khin Yi 
Director General 
Myanmar Police Force 
Ministry of Home Affairs 
Office No. 10 
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663 
Fax: +951 549 663 / 549 208 


Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (ua@ahrchk.org)