UPDATE (Burma): Workers’ rights advocates given long jail terms


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-121-2007
ISSUES: Administration of justice, Arbitrary arrest & detention, Human rights defenders, Judicial system, Rule of law,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) regrets to inform you that six labour rights advocates in Burma have been given long jail terms by a special tribunal in the central prison. They were not represented, as their lawyers quit in protest after being constantly harassed by the prison authorities. Their imprisonment comes after a number of other cases in which persons engaged in human rights education and protection in Burma have been jailed, and at a time of increasing open discontent with the military regime.

As the AHRC reported previously (UA-248-2007), on 1 May 2007 a group of workers’ rights advocates in Rangoon were illegally arrested by unknown persons in plain clothes and taken away on Dyna vans and other transport to a special interrogation centre after organising some discussions to mark May Day. Such methods of “arrest” have since been used repeatedly during the current protests against the August 15 fuel price hike (see AS-201-2007; and, Burma Protests 2007 page: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/burmaprotests).

Out of 33 persons originally arrested, six were held and charged, namely: Ko Thurein Aung, Ko Way Lin, Ko Kyaw Min (a.k.a. Ko Wanna), Ko Myo Min, Ko Nyi Nyi Zaw, and Ko Kyaw Kyaw.

According to information from the Yoma 3 news service (Thailand) and other sources, on Friday, September 7, the six were all found guilty of sedition and illegal organising by a special tribunal inside the central prison, and sentenced to 20 to 28 years in jail.

As the lawyers for the six had already resigned due to constant harassment by the prison officials, it is not clear as to whether or not, or how, the six might lodge appeals against their sentences.

According to information earlier received, the hearings had been scheduled to be completed and a judgment given on September 30; it is not known as to why the judgment was given earlier than scheduled.


This case comes at a time of a number of other cases reported on by the AHRC where human rights defenders have been targetted and jailed simply for holding talks and other very limited activities in Burma. See in particular the jailing of Ko Min Min (UP-108-2007) on a charge of giving illegal tuition, and also of six rights defenders in the delta region (UP-105-2007). The AHRC submitted a letter of concern on Ko Min Min’s case to the secretary general of the Association of South East Asian Nations: AHRC-PL-030-2007.

The AHRC has called on the UN special expert for human rights defenders to do much more to address the worsening situation in Burma for these persons: AHRC-OL-025-2007. It has also spoken of the growing use of thugs and unconventional groups to handle government opponents and persons organising on human rights principles: AS-173-2007; AS-125-2007.

On August 9 the AHRC also submitted an open letter to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on this case: AHRC-OL-027-2007. It has since been informed by the ILO that it has been closely following the case.

The charges and handling of the case also bear a strong resemblance to that of the group of Shan nationality leaders given life sentences for high treason and sedition earlier in 2007 (UP-016-2007; UP-008-2007; UA-017-2007; see also Pyithu Hittaing, vol. 2, no. 2).


Please write to the Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to call for a review of the judgment in this case in view of the fact that the men were not tried in open court and did not have lawyers representing them for much of the proceedings.

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, Yangon.

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


Dear ___________,

MYANMAR: Long jail terms for six workers’ rights advocates breach domestic and international law

Details of convicted persons: 
28 years for sedition, illegal movement across border and participating in an illegal organisation [Penal Code sn. 124A; Burma Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1947, sn. 13(1); Unlawful Association Act, 1908, sn. 17(1)] — 
1. Ko Thurein Aung, 32, event organiser, resident of Hlaingthayar Township, Yangon 
2, Ko Way Lin, 24, event organiser resident of Mangaleit village, Kunchankone Township,    Yangon Division
3. Ko Kyaw Min (a.k.a. Ko Wanna)
4. Ko Myo Min
20 years for sedition, Penal Code sn. 124A — 
5. Ko Nyi Nyi Zaw, 25, May Day events organiser, resident of Thukhayeithar, Hlaing Township, Yangon; 
6. Ko Kyaw Kyaw, 29, junior lawyer, resident of Ward 20, South Dagon Township, Yangon
Detained & interrogated by: Deputy Superintendent Zaw Lin Naing and other personnel of Kyaik-kahsan interrogation camp, Myanmar Police Force, on 1 May 2007
Further details: Charges lodged by Deputy Superintendent Myo Thant, hearings commenced in Insein Prison Special Court, Yangon on 16 July 2007; subsequently at North Yangon District Court, but then transferred back to the prison court; judgment given on 7 September 2007

I am greatly disturbed to hear that six men in Myanmar have been given long jail terms for sedition and other grave offences simply for organising a discussion about basic workers’ rights.

The six were among some 33 persons detained as they had arranged a meeting to commemorate May Day at the American Center in Rangoon. After being held at a special interrogation centre, they were transferred to the central prison, where they were reportedly held in separate buildings, denied visits, and also subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment.

The case opened against the six on July 16 at the central prison premises. Relatives were not admitted to the first hearing but were able to attend the subsequent hearings from July 20, at an outside court. However, after that the hearings were transferred back to the prison premises, where outsiders have been unable to get access. Thus, two lawyers for the accused, U Aung Thein and U Khin Maung Shin, on August 2 sought for the case to be transferred back to open court, in accordance with section 2(e) of the Judiciary Law 2000, that “dispensing justice [should be] in open court unless otherwise prohibited by law”. However, due to constant harassment as they entered and left the court premises, the two lawyers withdrew from the case in protest on August 4. Thus the defendants had no attorneys appearing for them throughout the remainder of the trial, and nor when they were sentenced to 20 to 28 years in jail on September 7.

I find it outrageous that the court system in Myanmar is being so blatantly misused and perverted for the purpose of imprisoning persons whose only “offence” was to discuss and promote workers’ rights in accordance with standards to which the government of Myanmar is supposed to be in compliance. This case is particularly ironic coming at a time that the government has recently renewed its agreement for cooperation with the International Labour Organisation, and I expect that the latter is following the case closely and it will also be highly concerned by the treatment of these men.

I therefore call for the attorney general of Myanmar to see that the concerned law office personnel review the case without further delay in accordance with the Attorney General Law (2001), sections 4(b) and 9(h), in particular in view of the facts that the case was not conducted in open court and the accused were not represented, in violation of their basic rights (Attorney General Law, section 3[i]).

I am also aware that this is one of a number of such cases involving illegal arrests and needless persecution of human rights defenders and others in Myanmar during recent times. I take this opportunity to call for the cessation of such actions by the government and persons acting on its behalf, and in particular demand the release from imprisonment of jailed former tuition teacher Ko Min Min and the six members of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group in Henzada Township.

Yours sincerely


1. 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

2. 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. Thein Sein
Acting 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
E-mail: ddg.gad@gad.gov.mm

3. Brig-Gen. Khin Yi
Director General 
Myanmar Police Force
Tel: + 95 1 549 196/ 228/ 209

4. U Aung Bwa
Director-General, ASEAN-Myanmar
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Tel: +951 229 214; 221 191
Fax: +951 222 950; 221 719
E-mail: dgaseanmofa@myanmar.com.mm

5. 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

6. Mr Steve Marshall
Liaison Officer (Myanmar)
International Labour Organization (ILO)
4, route des Morillons
CH-1211 Geneva 22
Fax: +41 22 798 8685
E-mail: marshall@ilo.org

7. 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

8. Ms. Hina Jilani
Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights defenders
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 93 88

9. Prof. Manfred Nowak
Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture
Attn: Mr. Safir Syed
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9230

10. Mr. Homayoun Alizadeh
Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific of OHCHR
UN Secretariat Building, 6th Fl., Room A-601
Rajdamnern Nok Ave.
Bangkok 10200,
Tel: +662 288 1496
Fax: +662 288 3009

11. Mr. Ong Keng Yong
Secretary General
ASEAN Secretariat
70A, Jalan Sisingamangaraja
Jakarta 12110
Tel: +62 21 7262991/ 7243372
Fax: +62 21 7398234/ 7243504
Email: public@aseansec.org; termsak@aseansec.org; amelia.b@aseansec.org

Thank you.

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