UPDATE (Burma): Legally incoherent cases lodged against comedian and journalist for cyclone relief work


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-061-2008
ISSUES: Arbitrary arrest & detention, Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Military, Rule of law, State of emergency & martial law,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has previously reported on the case of the nationally renowned Burmese comedian Zarganar, who was taken from his house in June apparently in connection with cyclone relief work that he was doing at the time. The AHRC has since closely followed the cases against him and a former sports editor, Zaw Thet Htwe, and in this appeal is giving the details of two of the concocted charges lodged against the two.


As the AHRC reported in June (AHRC-UAC-126-2008), police and government officials on June 4 took Zarganar (“pincers”), whose real name is Ko Thura, from his house and removed various items and money, without explanation.

The police have since charged Zarganar and his friend Zaw Thet Htwe with a variety of offences arising from the monk-led protests of last September and also after the Cyclone Nargis disaster of May this year, and the case was admitted to court at the end of August, during which time the accused were held illegally. Zarganar faces at least seven charges, of which the details of two are given in this appeal.

According to the police, on September 24 and 25 of 2007 because Zarganar joined with other prominent artistes on the eastern steps of the Shwedagon Pagoda to offer food to monks rallying against the military dictatorship and had thereafter contacted the media about this it amounted to a violation of the law on respect for religion and was also aimed at upsetting public tranquility.

Zaw Thet Htwe has been charged in relation to the same events on those two days simply because he purchased 20 boxes of rice on each day and gave them to Zarganar to donate to the monks.

Furthermore, the police have submitted a case against Zarganar that he also aimed to upset public tranquility by giving false information about the Cyclone Nargis disaster, even though he was one of many people, including government officers and police, who spoke with the foreign media at that time. Included in the lists of evidence against Zarganar are copies of interviews that he did with foreign media after May, such as that on The Irrawaddy and Mizzima news websites, and those with the Burmese radio services of the VOA, BBC and RFA and the Democratic Voice of Burma.

In fact, Zarganar had been doing extensive relief work and had organised volunteers in a number of parts of the affected delta region to distribute food, medicines and materials to victims of the cyclone as the government was not taking responsibility for these things and had at this time not yet opened the door to international agencies. It is evident that the charges against him are motivated by anger and embarrassment at the work he did of which the state itself was either incapable or unwilling.

Zaw Thet Htwe, a former editor of highly popular weekly journal Eleven Sport was released from jail in 2005 after originally being sentenced to death for high treason (AHRC FA-05-2004). Zarganar has also previously been jailed for satirising the government.


The AHRC has been documenting cases of illegal arrest, detention and prosecution since the nationwide protests in Burma last September and has in recent months also issued a number of other recent cases of young women imprisoned under similar circumstances and on similar charges, including two men also charged with sending false news abroad (AHRC-UAC-223-2008, AHRC-UAC-200-2008), blogger Nay Phone Latt (AHRC-UAC-204-2008), the cases of three men who harboured a monk (AHRC-UAC-188-2008), Kam Lat Koat and two others (AHRC-UAC-177-2008), Ko Htin Kyaw (AHRC-UAC-146-2008), U Ohn Than (AHRC-UAC-131-2008), Honey Oo and Aung Min Naing (AHRC-UAC-083-2008), Ko Thiha (AHRC-UAC-052-2008) and Khin Sanda Win (AHRC-UAC-022-2008).

Similarly, it has been following the growing number of arrests and legal actions taken against persons who have launched their own cyclone relief operations since May. See on the arrest of human rights defender U Myint Aye and two others: AHRC-UAC-183-2008.

For links and other material on the protests in Burma of August and September 2007 see: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/burmaprotests/

See also the comprehensive report on Burma: “Burma, political psychosis and legal dementia” issued by the AHRC’s sister organisation and the 2007 AHRC Human Rights Report chapter on Burma.


Please write to the persons listed below to call for the charges against Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htwe to be dropped. Please note that for the purpose of the letter, the country should be referred to by its official title of Myanmar, rather than Burma, and Rangoon as Yangon.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar, independence of judges and lawyers and human rights defenders, 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


ear ___________,

MYANMAR: Man arrested and charged for blogging on September 2007 rallies

Details of accused and charges: 
1. Ko Thura, a.k.a. Zarganar, son of U Aung Thein, residing at Shankone Road, Myenigone North Ward, Sanchaung Township, Yangon
2. Thet Zaw, a.k.a. Zaw Thet Htwe, son of U Ko Lay, residing at West Myinpainggwin Road, Bo Sein Hman Ward, Bahan Township, Yangon
Investigating officer: Police Major Ye Nyunt, No. La/58188, Special Branch (SB)
Other concerned officials: 
1. Police Captain Hsan Lwin, No. La/112833, SB
2. Superintendent Thet Naing, No. La/114384, SB
3. Superintendent Myint Aye, No. La/127086, SB
4. Deputy Superintendent Aung Naing Oo, No. La/139281, SB
5. Deputy Superintendent Htay Lwin, No. La/183596, SB
6. Deputy Superintendent Win Kyaw, No. La/151355, SB
7. U Ne Myo Htun, Chairman, Myenigone North Ward Peace and Development Council (PDC)
8. U Than Htun Oo, 100-household head, Myenigone North Ward PDC
9. U Tint Wei, Chairman, Bo Sein Hman Ward PDC
10. U Hlaing Oo, 100-household head, Bo Sein Hman Ward PDC
11. U Aung Kyaw Htet, Branch head (importation), Video Censors Board, Myanma Motion Picture Enterprise
Charges and trial: Sections 505(b)/295A of the Penal Code with upsetting public tranquility and insulting religion, Felony Case Nos. 76-77/2008 (first accused both cases; second accused only 77/2008), Yangon Western District Court (Special Court), Judge U Than Win, Deputy District Judge, presiding

I am writing to you today to express my grave concern over the baseless charges of upsetting public tranquility and insulting religion lodged against prominent Myanmar comedian Ko Thura, popularly known as Zarganar, and former sports editor Zaw Thet Htwe, in connection with events in Myanmar of last September 2007 and May 2008, the rallies led by members of the Buddhist religious order and the Cyclone Nargis disaster respectively.

I am aware that Ko Thura was already illegally detained from September 25 to October 17, 2007 in connection with the events at that time but was released without charge or explanation and am confused as to why he is now again being accused of wrongdoing arising from that time. I can only surmise that as the police and government officials removed him from his house this June 4 apparently in connection with his relief work after the cyclone that they then decided also to concoct a case against him concerning events of last year.

From what I have learned, it is a very badly concocted case. After charges were finally moved against Ko Thura and Zaw Thet Htwe in court on 30 July 2008, prior to which time the two men were held illegally, the hearings opened in a closed court inside the Insein Prison, rather than in an open court as required under the Judiciary Law 2000. Two separate cases were lodged against Ko Thura instead of being brought as a single case as specified by the Criminal Procedure Code [section 234(1)].

The investigating officer, Police Major Ye Nyunt, has been unable to present any evidence to support accusations that the contents of any interviews or other material sent abroad amounted to false information or that which might upset the public tranquility. Nor has he been able to give any evidence or explain how by offering food to the monks at Shwedagon Pagoda during the events of September 2007 the accused insulted religion. On the contrary, he has admitted that he does not know the Vinaya (regulations on behaviour of monks) all that well, and could not say exactly what did or didn’t constitute a violation. Yet although the court has the authority to close the case on the ground that the prosecution has been unable to present evidence to support the charges, it has not so far done so.

Clearly, the two accused are among many thousands of persons who participated in some way or another in the events of last September and also had contact with overseas media about events of then and again in May. Even members of government departments and police spoke to radio stations about the effects of the cyclone. Yet as most of these other persons are not being prosecuted through such fabricated and flawed cases I can only assume that this is another example of the courts in Myanmar being used for targetted purposes to threaten ordinary citizens rather than to enforce the law.

In light of this patent lack of evidence and defects with the prosecution witnesses I urge that the court close the case and release the accused immediately. In the event that the court itself fails to do so I urge the Supreme Court of Myanmar to give directions to this effect in accordance with its powers as established by the new Constitution of Myanmar 2008.

I likewise call for the Attorney General to review the case and instruct the concerned law office to withdraw the case from the court as per section 4(b) of the Attorney General Law 2001, and for the Minister of Home Affairs and Director General of Police also to look into the matter both with a view to seeing the case withdrawn and also in order to review the work of their subordinates, in particular, that of Police Major Ye Nyunt whose work for Special Branch, which is supposed to carry a long and fine tradition, is nothing more than an utter shambles.

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 and not least of all, access to those persons and forcibly disrobed monks and nuns who have been held in violation of criminal procedure and without charge or trial since the events of last September.

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 (ua@ahrchk.org)