BURMA: Villager arrested for parody of state propaganda on national development


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-078-2007
ISSUES: Freedom of expression,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information about a villager in Burma who has been arrested and charged for satirising state news media articles. U Thein Zan was arrested on 5 March 2007 after he stuck doctored state propaganda on his fence. His case has been opened in court and the prosecution is beginning to present its witnesses: urgent action is needed to get it stopped.

According to the information available to date, 65-year-old Thein Zan, a retired sailor who earns money by repairing radios and cassette players, was angered by government propaganda claiming that economic and social conditions in Burma are improving and that opponents to the state are a small minority of troublemakers and terrorists.

During the morning of February 23, Thein Zan cut out and stuck some headlines from news and opinion pieces along the inside of his fence in Thingankyun, Rangoon and added his own title that parodied a long-running series of propaganda articles, as well as other satirical comments.

After a short time around 100 persons had gathered to see what he had done, and around 11am local council officials and police arrived and removed the papers from the fence and took Thein Zan back to the council office.

At the office the police interrogated Thein Zan, who told them that he had nothing to do with politics but rather that he had put up the papers after his daughter-in-law had come back from the market that morning and told him about the prices of eggs. He said that the writers of the articles whom he parodied should write useful articles about the real experiences of the people, who are facing electricity shortages and sky-rocketing prices of basic commodities. He also reportedly told them that if what he had done was an offence then they should charge him.

After the interrogation, Thein Zan was allowed to go home, but around 7pm on March 5 a group of police and township council members came and arrested him at his house. Shortly thereafter he was transferred to central Insein Prison, where he has been held since. He has been charged with intent to cause public mischief, for which he could be sentenced to two years in jail.

When the court sat for the first hearing on March 8 it was full, as many persons, including Ma Su Su Nwe (http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/susunwe/) and other human rights defenders and activists, came to listen. A person who looked like a police officer (wearing police uniform trousers and a vest over his shirt) came inside the court and began taking photographs. Thein Zan’s lawyer complained to the court but it is not known at this stage what action if any has been taken as a result of the incident.

The first person to testify was the township police chief, who in reply to a question from the defence attorney that “Are you aware of the electricity outages in Rangoon?” replied that he was not. As the city is constantly plagued by power cuts, including in government buildings and relatively-wealthy suburbs, the reply was ridiculous and patently false.

The prosecution case is due to continue with two members of the local council appearing as witnesses on March 14.


U Thein Zan’s actions on February 23 followed reporting on a small protest against rising prices and economic hardship in Rangoon the day before. The protest was reported as a “riot” in the state media “aimed at instigating external and internal anti-government groups and foreign media to fabricate news” in order that the participants might obtain “medals or cash rewards from abroad”. The reports warned that the protest was “totally against the law”. Some nine persons were detained for questioning over the protest, and subsequently released, but in March further arrests and releases were also reported.

In an earlier appeal issued by the AHRC a farmer was charged with the same offence as Thein Zan, for complaining about the destruction of his crops due to incompetent government officials (UA-155-2006). The farmer, U Tin Nyein, was released after eight months’ imprisonment, at the start of February 2007 (UP-018-2007).

Thein Zan’s case also bears a resemblance to that of U Aung Pe, a tuition teacher who was sentenced to three years’ jail for hanging a t-shirt bearing the image of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in class. In February 2007 Aung Pe reportedly went on a hunger strike to protest his continued imprisonment and poor treatment (UP-029-2007)

See also the 2006 AHRC Human Rights Report chapter on Burma, and visit the AHRC Burma homepage: http://burma.ahrchk.net.



Please write to the Attorney General to demand that the charges against Thein Zan be dropped, and that under any circumstances he be granted bail.

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.

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



MYANMAR: Prosecution of U Thein Zan in Thingankyun Township Court for allegedly upsetting public tranquility

Name of victim: U Thein Zan, 65, retired sailor, ordinarily residing in Dhammayone Road, Ward 3, Thingankyun Township, Yangon, Myanmar
Case: Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, in Thingankyun Township Court, Criminal Case No. 265/2007, Deputy Superintendent Soe Win (complainant)

I am very sorry to hear of the arrest and detention of an elderly man for allegedly conducing public mischief in Yangon.

According to the information I have received, U Thein Zan was arrested by personnel of the Thingankyun Township Police Station together with members of the Township Peace and Development Council on 5 March 2007 and charged in connection with his posting news items parodying articles in journals and newspapers on the economic and social conditions in Myanmar along the inside of his fence on February 23. The trial against him opened in Thingankyun Township Court on March 8, during which time an unidentified man, believed to be a police officer, allegedly entered the court and took photographs of human rights defenders and other persons present. The counsel for the defendant, Supreme Court lawyer U Aung Thein, has lodged a complaint with the court on the same.

From what I have been led to understand, there is nothing in the actions of the accused or the contents of what he posted on his fence that would cause “fear or alarm” among the public “whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility” as required by section 505(b).

I therefore urge that the case against the defendant be reviewed and withdrawn in accordance with section 4(b) of the Attorney General Law 2001. I also urge that under any circumstances the accused immediately be granted bail.

I also call upon the staff of the law office present at the court to join with the defence counsel in calling for an investigation of the person who allegedly entered the court and took photographs and for legal action to be taken against him.

It should be of little pride to the Government of Myanmar that the arbitrary and unjust manner in which such cases are handled has led it to become known globally for its “injustice system”. I urge that in this case another innocent person not be needlessly victimised and that instead the office of the Attorney General become a means for protection of rights rather than their denial.

Yours sincerely


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


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

2. Maj-Gen. Maung Oo
Minister for Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Tel: +95 67 412 040/ 069/ 072
Fax: +95 67 412 016/ 439

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. Mr. Patrick Vial
Head of Delegation
No. 2 (C) – 5 Dr. Ba Han Lane
Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, 8th Mile
Mayangone Township
Tel.: +951 662 613 / 664 524
Fax: +951 650 117
E-mail: yangon.yan@icrc.org

5. Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro
Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
Attn: Mr. Laurent Meillan
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: + 41 22 9179 281
E-mail: lmeillan@ohchr.org

6. Mr. Leandro Despouy
Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
Attn: Sonia Cronin
Room: 3-060
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9160

7. Ms. Hina Jilani
Special Representative of the Secretary General for human rights defenders
Attn: Melinda Ching Simon
Room 1-040
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 93 88

8. Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo
Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression
Attn: J Deriviero
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9177

Thank you.

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

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-078-2007
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Freedom of expression,