BURMA: Religious elder sentenced to 20 years in jail for peaceful practice of faith 


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-046-2012
ISSUES: Freedom of association, Freedom of religion,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission has received detailed documentation on the case of an elderly religious leader in Burma who has been imprisoned after being sentenced to 20 years in jail for peaceful practice of his faith. Because the leader, Shin Nyana, established a religious order that claims to adhere to Buddhist teachings but rejects orthodox doctrine, he was arrested and imprisoned in 2010 under laws established under successive military regimes to politically control religious groups. He has now exhausted his judicial appeals, and his followers are calling on the head of state in Burma to intervene in the case.


Shin Nyana began his practice as a monk, but because he did not agree with some aspects of orthodox Buddhist practice in Burma, he left the monkhood in 1979. He continued to preach according to his own understanding of Buddhist teachings, as a lay religious figure, and in 1983 left the orthodox Buddhist tradition in Burma. He set up his own religious group, known colloquially as Moepyar. In the subsequent years, the group remained small, with gatherings of adherents in the hundreds at most, and with a number of modest centres scattered around the country. They taught and practiced their faith and distributed materials (books, tapes, CDs and so on) only in the centres, and did nothing to disturb the enjoyment of other people to their own faiths.

Nonetheless, in 2010 the religious affairs ministry initiated legal action against Shin Nyana, accusing him of setting up a sect that does not adhere to the official doctrine laid down by the peak Buddhist body, which is under the control of the government. After police investigated, it brought six charges in four cases against the 75-year-old religious leader, who in court denied wrongdoing on the grounds that his group was not part of the orthodox Buddhist order and was not beholden to its orders, and nor did it constitute any form of schism. Despite his arguments, the courts sentenced him to a total of 20 years in jail.

After appeals against the convictions failed, in 2011 some followers of Shin Nyana lodged a writ petition to the Supreme Court, but it also failed. Now, they have submitted a special request asking for the intervention of the president, on grounds that the imprisonment of Shin Nyana violate the right to religious freedom under the 2008 Constitution and also under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, they note that the sentencing of Shin Nyana on multiple charges for the same alleged offence is illegal under the domestic law of Burma.

Please support their call by sending letters urging the release from prison of Shin Nyana. Further details and analysis of the case are in the sample letter below.


In 1984, a court already once sentenced Shin Nyana to three years in prison for allegedly impersonating a monk. However, in 1985 the apex court then overturned the ruling on the ground that as Shin Nyana wore light blue traditional shirts and trousers, he did not commit any offence of impersonation.

After the antigovernment protests in 1988, a new military regime in Burma imposed martial law and established military tribunals to try people for a range of offences. At that time a tribunal also summarily sentenced Shin Nyana to 10 years in prison, from which he was released in 1998, having served over seven years of the sentence.


The appeal for the release of Shin Nyana by his followers comes at a time that Buddhist monks are again becoming increasingly active in the political life of Burma, as they have been for centuries. The AHRC recently issued an appeal on the repeated re-arrests of Shin Gambira (AHRC-UAC-044-2012) after his release from prison in January. It has also been following the case of another monk, the Shwenyawar Sayadaw, who was forced to vacate his monastery after allowing the National League for Democracy to use it for advocacy purposes.

The laws that were used to imprison Shin Nyana have been introduced by successive military authoritarian regimes precisely with the objective of politically controlling monks and other religious figures who fail to comply with government dictates. Therefore, any progress towards lasting political change in Burma will require the revocation or significant amendment of these and other laws that have as their purpose the restriction and denial of fundamental human rights.

For more commentary on these and other human rights issues in Burma, visit the Burma page on the new AHRC website: http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma

The AHRC Burmese-language blog 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 Shin Nyana and for the revision or revocation of laws in Burma that deny religious freedom. Please note that for the purposes of the letter Burma is referred to by its official name of Myanmar, and Rangoon as Yangon.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar, and on freedom of religion or belief; and to 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: Unjustified imprisonment of 75-year-old religious elder

Name: U Nyana, also known as Shin Nyana and Shin Moepyar, 75, currently detained in Myitkyina Prison

Charges and cases:

1. Criminal Case No. 63/2010, Mandalay District Court, case brought by Police Major Khin Maung Soe, Special Branch (Upper Myanmar), under the 1988 Organisations Law, section 6, sentenced to 5 years in prison on 15 July 2010 by Deputy District Judge Ohn Myint

2. Criminal Case Nos. 54, 82, 83/2010, Patheingyi Township Court, cases brought by U Kyaw Hlaing, Mandalay Division Religious Affairs Department, sentenced in all three cases by Township Judge Khin Nwe Yi: on 11 March 2010 under section 295 and 295A of the Penal Code (defiling a place of worship and insulting religion), to four years in prison; and on 8 April 2010 under section 10 of the 1983 Law Safeguarding Decisions Made in Cases of Disputes Over Religious Discipline and sections 12 and 13 of the 1990 Law Regarding Sangha Organisations to five years and six years in prison respectively

I am writing to draw your attention to the case of Shin Nyana, a 75-year-old religious elder who has been imprisoned on a series of charges with penalties totaling 20 years in jail for allegedly causing a schism to the Buddhist religious order in Myanmar. So far as I can see, Shin Nyana was doing no more than peacefully and unobtrusively practicing and teaching his understanding of a religious faith, and the charges and sentences are totally undeserved.

According to the information that I have received, the Ministry of Religious Affairs initiated legal action against Shin Nyana in 2010 for allegedly leading a sect that is not in accordance with Buddhist doctrine, and brought charges following investigations by officers of the Special Branch police.

As I understand it, Shin Nyana had been leading this group--known as the Moepyar Sect, which consists of some hundreds of adherents--for over 27 years, and in all of this time the group has practiced its faith peacefully and unobtrusively. Shin Nyana has taught his doctrine and members of the group have distributed materials on his teachings only within a number of small centres scattered around the country. At no time have they done anything to disturb the faith or practices of other people in Myanmar.

In court, when government officials accused him of leading a Buddhist group that violates doctrine set down by the supreme body of monks, the Maha Sangha Nayaka Committee, Shin Nyana pointed out that he left the monkhood and established his own group precisely because he did not agree with certain orthodox teachings, and he did not feel beholden to answer to that body. He said that although his Moepyar Sect follows Buddhist teachings, it is not part of the orthodox Buddhist order in Myanmar, and has never pretended to be, and therefore it could not be classed as a schismatic sect. Nonetheless, two judges convicted him in four cases to 2010.

After appeals against the convictions failed, in 2011 some followers of Shin Nyana lodged a petition to the Supreme Court under the writ jurisdiction made available by the 2008 Constitution (Miscellaneous Criminal Application No. 2/2011). But Judge Soe Nyunt dismissed the application without a hearing on 8 December 2011.

As they had exhausted their avenues for judicial appeal, on 24 January 2012 the followers lodged a special petition with the president, asking for intervention into the case on grounds that the imprisonment of Shin Nyana violate the right to religious freedom in sections 34, 348 and 354(a)(d) of the 2008 Constitution, and also article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the complaint letter the followers also note that even if he was convicted of an offence, it is illegal under section 71 of the Penal Code to sentence an accused to consecutive terms of imprisonment for the same offence. They further note that in 1984 Shin Nyana had already once been convicted under the 1983 Law Safeguarding Decisions Made in Cases of Disputes Over Religious Discipline (Patheingyi Township Court, Criminal Case No. 62/84) but that in 1985 the verdict was acquitted on appeal and released on order of the apex court [Central Court, Criminal Revision Case No. 166(b)/85]. So far as I understand, since that time his practice has not changed in any way to encourage the bringing of these new charges against him.

I support the call of these followers of Shin Nyana for intervention into his case and for his release on grounds of his right to practice his faith freely and peacefully under both the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar and also under international law. I believe that as the government of Myanmar is initiating various activities to demonstrate some kind of newfound commitment to human rights and democratic values, and as it has released many prisoners of conscience in the last year, it should also free Shin Nyana.

It is also quite obvious from this case that the problem remains in Myanmar of many laws introduced at various times for highly authoritarian purposes that enable authorities to violate people's fundamental human rights. In this case, the laws under which Shin Nyana was imprisoned were introduced at various times by dictatorial regimes to politically control religious groups and other agencies, and force compliance with their own arbitrary agendas. If the government of Myanmar is genuinely committed to proceeding along a democratic path, these laws are among others that need to be reviewed by the legislature and either significantly amended or revoked, so that people in Myanmar can in fact enjoy the rights that they deserve to enjoy, including those to allow for peaceful practice of religious faith, irrespective of creed.

Yours sincerely,



1. U Thein Sein
President of Myanmar
President Office
Office No.18

2. Minister Thura Myint Maung
Ministry of Home and religious affairs
Department for the Promotion and propagation of the SASANA
Kaba-aye, Yangon
Tel: +95 1 665 621

3. Dr. Tun Shin
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

4.Thura U Aung Ko
Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial and Legislative Committee
Pythu Hluttaw Office

5.U Aung Nyein
Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial and Legislative Committee
Committee for Public Complaints and Appeals
Amyotha Hluttaw Office

6. U Win Mra
Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
27 Pyay Road
Hlaing Township
Tel: +95-1-659668
Fax: +95-1-659668

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (ua@ahrc.asia)

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : AHRC-UAC-046-2012
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Freedom of association, Freedom of religion,