UPDATE (Burma): Three innocent men are tortured into confessing to a bomb plot


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-018-2009
ISSUES: Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Military, State of emergency & martial law, Torture,

Dear friends, 

Last year the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued an urgent appeal in the case of U Myint Aye, the leader of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group in Burma whom police and other officials arrested without giving a reason. Later the military regime there organised a press conference in which it accused him of masterminding a bomb plot, and they implicated other human rights defenders and political opponents of the regime. The AHRC has since obtained full details of the unjust trials and convictions of Myint Aye and two other men. 


As we reported a year ago, a team of police and administrative officers came to the house of U Myint Aye, the chairman of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP) group on 8 August 2008 and after searching the house and taking some documents and other items, they told Myint Aye to go with them for a short while; however he did not return (UAC-183-2008). 

In September the military regime held a press conference in which it made the fanciful accusation that Myint Aye was the mastermind of a terrorist plot and that he had arranged for two other men, Yan Shwe and Zaw Zaw Aung, to explode a bomb at the office of a government organisation. 

The three were then tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for the offence, as well as two other offences: contact with unlawful groups abroad and having gone in and out of the country illegally. However the cases against the three men were concocted and had no legal basis. 

To begin with, there was nothing to connect any of the accused to the crime. According to the investigating police, some yellow tape was used to wrap the wiring of the bomb and this was the material evidence that linked them to Zaw Zaw Aung, who then confessed to planting the bomb with Yan Shwe on Myint Aye’s instructions. But this type of yellow tape can be bought in any electrical supplies shop in the country and the suggestion that this led the police to Zaw Zaw Aung is absurd. There was no other material evidence such as fingerprints to link the accused to the scene of the crime. On the contrary, Myint Aye had evidence that he was not even in Myanmar when the crime had occurred; the court disregarded it. 

Nothing was found at any of the three men’s houses to link them to the crime and there were only the confessions as the basis for the charges. In court all three of the defendants retracted the confessions and informed the judge that they had been tortured over some days to extract them. But the judge did not pay heed to the claims of torture, even though the three had been held in illegal custody at two different police stations and an army camp for a month before their cases were brought to the court, during which they could easily have been tortured. 

Myint Aye was not able to have a lawyer for most of the trial because his first counsel was himself charged with contempt of court and jailed (see campaign page) while another whom he attempted to retain was accused of a criminal offence and fled to Thailand. 

The reason for Myint Aye’s arrest along with the other two was evidently that he had spoken out on the lack of effective relief for many victims of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. His use of a mobile phone for this purpose was raised in the court. Myint Aye didn’t deny that he did that and correctly pointed out that his use of a phone to talk with overseas media was irrelevant to the accusation of arranging to plant a bomb. 


The AHRC has on numerous previous occasions reported on harassment of the members of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, including the arrest of at least 19 of its members during last September’s protests (OL-035-2007); an assault on U Myint Aye in March 2008 (UAC-062-2008); the life imprisonment of Ko Thiha also in March (UAC-052-2008); the assault, arrest and imprisonment of ‘The Henzada 6’, and the imprisonment of Ko Min Min (UP-108-2007). A number of these cases are discussed in detail, together with further explanatory content, in the December 2007 edition of the Asian Legal Resource Centre’s periodical, article 2 (PDF) . 

Myint Aye was not the only person apparently detained over his outspokenness after the Cyclone Nargis disaster. Prominent comedian Zarganar was also given a long jail term as was Ko Zaw Thet Htwe, the former editor of a sports magazine. Zarganar, like Myint Aye, had been detained for his role in the monk-led protests of September 2007 but was later released. 


Please write to the persons listed below to call for the immediate release of U Myint Aye and the other two persons imprisoned in this falsified case. Please note that for the purpose of the letter, the country should be referred to by its official title of Myanmar, rather than Burma. 

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar, on human rights defenders, and on torture; 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: Three men allegedly tortured into confessing to a bomb plot 

Names of the victims: 
1. U Myint Aye, 59, resident of Magyidaung East Ward, Kyimyindaing Township, Yangon, chairman of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group; sentenced to a total of 28 years 
2. Yan Shwe, 37, resident of Wataya village, Htantabin Township, Bago Division; sentenced to a total of 33 years 
3. Zaw Zaw Aung, 30, resident of Ward 9, Shwepyithar Township, Yangon; sentenced to a total of 28 years 

Names of the officials involved: 
1. Inspector Soe Lwin, Shwepyithar Police Station Commander 
2. Inspector Thet Tin, Special Branch 
3. Inspector Zaw Thein, Criminal Investigation Department, Insein 
Charges & trial: Explosive Substances Act, No. 6/1908, sections 3 & 6; Felony No. 102/2008, Yangon North District Court, Judge Thaung Nyunt presiding; sentenced to life imprisonment on 28 November 2008 

I am writing to express my outrage that three men accused of having planted a bomb at an office in greater Yangon were convicted after a patently unfair trial that was already determined in advance by the contents of a government press conference, and in which there was no evidence against the three accused whatsoever other than confessions, which they maintain were extracted through torture. 

The details of the case in brief are that on 1 July 2008 there was reportedly an explosion at the Union Solidarity and Development Association office in Ward 6, Shwepyithar Township of Yangon. There were no casualties, only some damage to the office. 

On September 7, the information minister held a press conference at which he accused Yan Shwe and Zaw Zaw Aung of planting the bomb on the instigation of U Myint Aye. He also made various other politically oriented allegations against Myint Aye’s organisation, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, such as that it sends false news about human rights cases abroad. 

Thereafter the case against the three accused was opened on September 19. It was held in the manner of the press conference and the three were sentenced to life imprisonment. The three were also tried and convicted of having had contact with unlawful associations abroad and having illegally left and reentered Myanmar (section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act 1908 and sections 13(1) and (5) of the Burma Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1947); Yan Shwe was convicted for the last offence twice. 

I am informed that the case against the three men was evidence-less and without any legal basis. 

There was nothing to link any of the three to the crime. The police claimed to have found some yellow tape that was used in the device that Zaw Zaw Aung also had in his possession but this claim is absurd because this type of yellow tape can be purchased at any electrical supplies shop in Myanmar. There were no fingerprints or other types of forensic evidence at the scene of the crime to link the men to the bombing. There is also contrary evidence that U Myint Aye was not even in Myanmar when he is alleged to have committed the offence but had gone to neighbouring China to purchase relief items for victims of Cyclone Nargis. 

Furthermore, according to the police, Zaw Zaw Aung confessed and supplied the information linking them to the other two accused and that they also later confessed. But all three men retracted their confessions in court and said that they had been tortured to obtain them. The judge did not give serious consideration to their claims even though the three men had been illegally held for a month before they were brought to trial, Zaw Zaw Aung and Yan Shwe at the Shwepyithar Police Station and Myint Aye at an army camp and at the Hlawga Police Station, during which time they would all have been at high risk of torture. 

Myint Aye and the other two accused appear to have been brought to trial because of his insistence on communicating with the overseas media in the aftermath of the Cyclone Nargis disaster. In fact, his use of a mobile phone for this purpose was raised in court. He freely admitted that he had had the phone and used it for this purpose, but pointed out that this had nothing to do with the case. He said that he had been using money for relief work after the cyclone, a fact borne out by the contents of the search forms on items taken from his house, which include registers of money spent on items for cyclone victims. 

Myint Aye was not represented by a lawyer for the duration of the trial, since the two lawyers whom he had engaged were also charged with offences during that time – one was imprisoned while the other absconded – and he was unable to engage another despite his wish to do so and his right to have a lawyer under domestic law. 

In light of the obvious discrepancies and flaws in the case against these three accused, I urge that the Government of Myanmar immediately review their cases and release them without delay. Furthermore, I urge that a special investigative panel be comprised in order to probe their allegations of torture and initiate prosecutions against any police officers believed to have been responsible for committing torture. 

I also take this opportunity to call for the release from imprisonment of all members of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group, including Ko Thiha, 34, convicted of sedition (Penal Code section 124A) and upsetting public tranquility, sn. 505(b), sentenced to 22 years in prison; Ko Myint Naing, 40, Ko Kyaw Lwin, 40, U Hla Shein, 62, U Mya Sein, 50, U Win, 50, and U Myint, 59, all residents of Henzada Township sentenced to four to eight years for upsetting public tranquility (Penal Code section 505[b][c]) and Ko Min Min, 30, residing in Pyi Township, sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for illegal tuition. 

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 recognised 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) 

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : AHRC-UAU-018-2009
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Military, State of emergency & martial law, Torture,