Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August 2014, 11:05 GMT

Annual Prison Census 2011 - Burma

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 8 December 2011
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2011 - Burma, 8 December 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f0420b027.html [accessed 21 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Journalists in prison as of December 1, 2011

Burma: 12

Ne Min (Win Shwe), freelance
Imprisoned: February 2004

Ne Min, a lawyer and a former stringer for the BBC, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on May 7, 2004. He was charged with illegally passing information to "anti-government" organizations operating in border areas, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, a prisoner aid group based in Thailand.

It was the second time that Burma's military government had imprisoned the well-known journalist, also known as Win Shwe, on charges related to disseminating information to news sources outside Burma. In 1989, a military tribunal sentenced Ne Min to 14 years of hard labor for "spreading false news and rumors to the BBC to fan further disturbances in the country" and "possession of documents including anti-government literature, which he planned to send to the BBC," according to official radio reports. He served nine years at Rangoon's Insein Prison before being released in 1998.

Exiled Burmese journalists told CPJ that Ne Min had provided news to political groups and exile-run news publications before his second arrest in February 2004.

Win Maw, Democratic Voice of Burma
Imprisoned: November 27, 2007

Military intelligence agents arrested Win Maw, an undercover reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma, an Oslo-based Burmese exile news organization, in a Rangoon tea shop shortly after he had visited an Internet café. He is serving a 17-year jail sentence on various charges related to his news reporting.

Authorities accused him of acting as the "mastermind" of DVB's in-country news coverage of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a series of Buddhist monk-led protests against the government that was put down by lethal military force, according to DVB.

The front man for the well-known pop band Shwe Thanzin (Golden Melody), Win Maw started reporting for DVB in 2003, a year after he was released from a seven-year prison sentence for composing pro-democracy songs, according to DVB. His video reports often focused on the activities of opposition groups, including the 88 Generation Students group.

After being arrested in November 2007, Win Maw was sentenced in closed-court proceedings on November 11, 2008, to seven years in prison for penal code violations stemming from the possession of video and recording equipment, and the Immigration Act violations related to crossing the Burmese border without a valid passport.

In March 2009, he was sentenced to an additional 10 years for violations of the Electronics Act after police raided his house while he was in detention and uncovered a computer disk with information destined for DVB, the news organizations said. The charges also related to his sending letters to DVB from an Internet café. The 11 months he spent in prison awaiting trial were not counted toward his sentence, according to the Canadian human rights group Centre for Law and Democracy.

Win Maw was being held at the remote Thandwe Prison in Arakan state, nearly 600 miles from his Rangoon-based family. Family members said police had tortured him during interrogations and denied him adequate medical attention after breaking his nose, according to DVB.

Win Maw received the 2010 Kenji Nagai Memorial Award, an honor bestowed on Burmese journalists in memory of the Japanese photojournalist shot and killed by Burmese troops while covering the 2007 Saffron Revolution. The award was created by APF, a Japanese video news agency, and the Burma Media Association, an exile-run press freedom group.

Nay Phone Latt (Nay Myo Kyaw), freelance
Imprisoned: January 29, 2008

Nay Phone Latt, also known as Nay Myo Kyaw, wrote a blog and owned three Internet cafés in Rangoon. He was arrested under the 1950 Emergency Provision Act on national security-related charges, according to news reports. His blog posts provided breaking news updates on the military's crackdown on the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and the reports were cited by a number of international news outlets, including the BBC. He also served as a youth member of the opposition National League for Democracy party, according to Reuters.

In July 2008, a court formally charged Nay Phone Latt with causing public offense and violating video and electronic laws when he posted caricatures of ruling generals on his blog, Reuters reported.

During closed judicial proceedings at Insein Prison on November 10, 2008, Nay Phone Latt was sentenced to 20 years and six months in prison, according to the Burma Media Association, a press freedom advocacy group, and news reports. He was transferred from Insein to Pa-an Prison in Karen state in late 2008, news reports said. The Rangoon Divisional Court later reduced the prison sentence to 12 years on appeal.

In 2010, he was honored with the prestigious PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for his creative and courageous blog postings. At the New York ceremony honoring him, chairwoman Tina Brown read a statement that Nay Phone Latt managed to dispatch from prison: "This award is dedicated to all writing hands which are tightly restricted by the unfairness and are strongly eager for the freedom to write, all over the world."

Zaw Thet Htwe, freelance
Imprisoned: June 13, 2008

Police arrested Rangoon-based freelance journalist Zaw Thet Htwe in the town of Minbu, where he was visiting his mother, Agence France-Presse reported. The sportswriter had been working with comedian-blogger Maung Thura in delivering aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis and videotaping the relief effort.

The journalist, who formerly edited the popular sports newspaper First Eleven, was indicted in a closed tribunal on August 7, 2008, and tried along with Maung Thura and two activists, AFP reported. The group faced multiple charges, including violating the Video and Electronics acts, disrupting public order, and engaging in unlawful association, news reports said. The Electronics Act allows for harsh prison sentences for anyone who uses electronic media to send information outside the country without government approval.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma said police officials confiscated a computer and cell phone during a raid on Zaw Thet Htwe's Rangoon home.

In November 2008, Zaw Thet Htwe was sentenced to a total of 19 years in prison, according to the exile-run Mizzima news agency. The Rangoon Divisional Court later reduced the term to 11 years, Mizzima reported. The journalist was serving his sentence in Taunggyi Prison in Shan state, nearly 400 miles from his home and family. Maung Thura, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison, was freed in an October 2011 amnesty of political prisoners.

Zaw Thet Htwe had been arrested before, in 2003, and given the death sentence for plotting to overthrow the government, news reports said. The sentence was later commuted to three years in prison, according to the exile-run news website The Irrawaddy. AFP reported that his 2003 arrest was related to a story about a misappropriated sports grant.

Thant Zin Aung, freelance
Imprisoned: June 13, 2008

Thant Zin Aung, an independent video journalist from Rangoon, was arrested as he was about to board a flight to Thailand with video footage showing the destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma. He was tried alongside journalists Maung Thura and Zaw Thet Htwe.

The trial, conducted inside Insein Prison, led to prison sentences in November 2008 that totaled 18 years. The sentence was reduced to 10 years on appeal. In 2011, Thant Zin Aung was being held in Pa-an Prison in the eastern state of Karen.

Thant Zin Aung was sentenced under the Television and Video Law, which prohibits copying or distributing video that is not approved by government censors, and the Electronics Act, which sets broad prohibitions against using technology for perceived "antistate" reasons.

Zaw Tun (Win Oo), freelance
Imprisoned: June 18, 2009

Zaw Tun, a freelance journalist and former chief reporter for the magazine The News Watch, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment after being arrested in June 2009, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma. At Bahan Township Court, he was charged with obstructing a public servant.

A security officer found Zaw Tun, also known as Win Oo, near the home of the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was then under house arrest. The officer arrested the journalist for purportedly responding impolitely to questions. In 2011, Zaw Tun was being held in Insein Prison.

Ngwe Soe Lin (Tun Kyaw), Democratic Voice of Burma
Imprisoned: June 26, 2009

Ngwe Soe Lin, an undercover video journalist with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), was arrested after leaving an Internet café in the Tamwe Township of Rangoon, according to DVB. Before the journalist's conviction, DVB had publicly referred to him only as "T."

Ngwe Soe Lin was one of two cameramen who took video footage of children orphaned by the 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster for a documentary titled, "Orphans of the Burmese Cyclone." The film was recognized with a Rory Peck Award for best documentary in November 2009. DVB said that another video journalist, identified only as "Zoro," went into hiding after Ngwe Soe Lin's arrest.

On January 27, 2010, a special military court attached to Rangoon's Insein Prison sentenced Ngwe Soe Lin, also known as Tun Kyaw, to 13 years in prison for sending video footage outside of the country to DVB in violation of the Electronics Act, and for attending a 2008 DVB training session in Thailand in violation of the Immigration Act, according to DVB.

The trial was closed to the public and no court documents of his conviction have been released, according to the Canada-based human rights group Centre for Law and Democracy. In 2011, Ngwe Soe Lin was being held in Lashio Prison.

Hla Hla Win, Democratic Voice of Burma
Myint Naing, freelance
Imprisoned: September 11, 2009

Hla Hla Win, an undercover reporter with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), was arrested while on a reporting assignment in Pakokku Township, Magwe Division, where she had conducted interviews with Buddhist monks in a local monastery. Her assistant, Myint Naing, was also arrested, according to the independent Asian Human Rights Commission.

Hla Hla Win was working on a story for the second anniversary of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, in which Buddhist monk-led protests were put down by lethal military force, according to her DVB editors. In October 2009, a Pakokku Township court sentenced Hla Hla Win and Myint Naing to seven years in prison each on charges of using an illegally imported motorcycle in violation of the Import/Export Act, and not registering as guests in Pakokku in violation of the Cities Act.

After being interrogated in prison, Hla Hla Win was sentenced to an additional 20 years in prison on December 30, 2009, on charges of violating the Television and Video Act and Electronics Act. Myint Naing was sentenced to an additional 25 years under the Electronics Act, the Asian Human Rights Commission said. The act allows for harsh prison sentences for anyone who uses electronic media to send information outside the country without government approval.

Hla Hla Win first joined DVB as an undercover reporter in December 2008. According to her editors, she played an active role in covering issues considered sensitive to the government, including local reaction to the controversial 2009 trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma said that Hla Hla Win was not provided legal representation during the trial. The court refused to hear her appeal in April 2010, and her family members publicly disowned her because of her activities, the association said. She has been transferred to Katha Prison, which the Canadian human rights group Centre for Law and Democracy characterized as a labor prison.

In 2010, Hla Hla Win received the Kenji Nagai Memorial Award, an honor bestowed on Burmese journalists in memory of the Japanese photojournalist shot and killed by Burmese troops while covering the 2007 Saffron Revolution. The award was created by APF, a Japanese video news agency, and the Burma Media Association, an exile-run press freedom group.

An initial report that the media assistant Myint Naing was among those released in an October 2011 government amnesty proved not to be true.

Nyi Nyi Tun, Kandarawaddy
Imprisoned: October 14, 2009

A court attached to Rangoon's Insein Prison sentenced Nyi Nyi Tun, editor of the Kandarawaddy, a news journal based in Karenni state, to 13 years in prison in October 2010, a year after his initial detention.

The court found Nyi Nyi Tun guilty of several antistate crimes, including violations of the Unlawful Associations, Immigration, and Wireless acts, according to Mizzima, a Burmese exile-run news agency, and the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Nyi Nyi Tun was initially detained on terrorism charges in October 2009, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, a Thailand-based advocacy organization. Authorities originally tried to connect him to a series of bomb blasts in Rangoon, but apparently dropped the allegations.

Nyi Nyi Tun told his family members that he had been tortured during his interrogation, Mizzima reported. The reported torture lasted for six days and included sodomy and repeated kicks to the head and face, according to the assistance association. Nyi Nyi Tun suffers from partial paralysis. He was among a group of 15 prisoners who staged a hunger strike in October 2011 to protest their continued detention.

After his arrest in 2009, Burmese authorities shut down Kandarawaddy, a local-language journal that operated out of the Kayah special region near the country's eastern border, according to the Burma Media Association, a press freedom advocacy group.

Sithu Zeya, Democratic Voice of Burma
Imprisoned: April 15, 2010

Sithu Zeya, a video journalist with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), was arrested while covering a grenade attack that left 10 dead and hundreds injured during the annual Buddhist New Year water festival in Rangoon, according to DVB. He was sentenced on two separate occasions to a total of 18 years in prison for his reporting activities.

On December 21, 2010, he was sentenced to eight years in prison under the Immigration and Unlawful Association acts on charges of illegally crossing the border and having ties to DVB.

DVB editors said Sithu Zeya was near the crowded area where the blast occurred and started filming the aftermath as authorities began to arrive on the scene. Authorities seized his laptop computer, video camera, and MP3 player, according to DVB. A police official, Khin Yi, said at a May 6, 2010, press conference that Sithu Zeya had been arrested for taking video footage of the attack.

On September 14, 2011, he was sentenced to an additional 10 years in prison under the Electronics Act. A Rangoon court ruled that his online activities threatened to "damage the tranquility and unity in the government," according to international press reports.

His mother, Yee Yee Tint, told DVB after a prison visit in May 2010 that the journalist had been denied food and that the beatings he suffered during police interrogations had left him with a constant ringing in his ear. The Canada-based Centre for Law and Democracy said he was tortured in a variety of ways, including beatings on the soles of his feet, being hung upside down, and being forced to maintain stress positions.

DVB Deputy Editor Khin Maung Win told CPJ that Sithu Zeya had been forced to reveal under torture that his father, Maung Maung Zeya, also served as an undercover DVB reporter. (Maung Maung Zeya was arrested two days later.) The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma reported that Sithu Zeya was placed in an isolation cell in January 2011 for failing to comply with prison regulations. He was taken out of the isolation cell every 15 minutes and forced to repeatedly squat and crawl as punishment, the assistance association said.

Both of his convictions were based solely on his forced confessions, without any independent corroborating evidence, the Centre for Law and Democracy said.

Maung Maung Zeya (Thargyi Zeya), Democratic Voice of Burma
Imprisoned: April 17, 2010

Maung Maung Zeya, an undercover reporter with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), was taken into custody two days after his son and fellow DVB journalist, Sithu Zeya, was arrested for filming the aftermath of a fatal bomb attack during a Buddhist New Year celebration, according to DVB. At the time of his arrest, authorities confiscated many of his personal belongings, claiming they were tools for illegal activities bought with funds supplied by illegal outside organizations, according to the Canada-based Centre for Law and Democracy.

Maung Maung Zeya, also known as Thargyi Zeya, was sentenced on February 6, 2011, to 13 years under the Unlawful Association Act, Electronics Transactions Law, and Immigration Act. He was being held in 2011 in remote Hsipaw Prison, away from his son in Insein Prison and his Rangoon-based family, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma.

Maung Maung Zeya was first detained and interrogated at the Bahan Township police station in Rangoon and transferred on June 14, 2010, to Insein Prison. Maung Maung Zeya told a legal adviser that he was drugged during the initial days of his detention, according to the Centre for Law and Democracy.

DVB editors said Maung Maung Zeya was a senior member of its undercover team in Burma and was responsible for operational management, including assigning stories to other DVB journalists. DVB Deputy Editor Khin Maung Win told CPJ that authorities had offered to free Maung Maung Zeya if he divulged the names of other undercover DVB reporters.

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