New Enemies of the State in Burma
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New Enemies of the State in Burma

By WAI MOE Saturday, January 9, 2010


In recent days, the Burmese military junta has imposed harsh sentences, including the death penalty, on five citizens accused of leaking information, demonstrating once again that it doesn't tolerate the free flow of information.

For leaking information about military ties between Burma and North Korea, a special court held in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison sentenced ex-Maj Win Naing Kyaw and his associate, Thura Kyaw, to death.

Young Internet users in Rangoon. Despite the popularity of Internet cafes in urban areas, access to information in Burma remains strictly controlled. (Photo: AP)
Pyan Sein, another aide to Win Naing Kyaw—who is the former personal assistant of late Secretary 2 Lt-Gen Tin Oo—received a 15-year prison sentence. Both Thura Kyaw and Pyan Sein worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A few days before these sentences were handed down, two very different figures received severe sentences for sharing sensitive information with the outside world.

On Dec. 31, video journalist Hla Hla Win and her assistant Myint Naing were sentenced to 26 years in prison for attempting to smuggle video footage about the country to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), a Burmese human rights group based in Thailand, more than 40 people are currently in jail for their work in media.

Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the AAPP, said the number of media workers in prison has dramatically increased since the junta’s crackdown on monk-led demonstrations in September 2007.

During the mass demonstrations, authorities were surprised by the technologically sophisticated flow of information that allowed the international media to publish and broadcast evidence of human rights violations by security forces.

“However, the case of Maj Win Naing Kyaw and his associates is quite unusual. It is the first time since the current regime seized power 21 years ago that government officials with important positions have been sentenced to death for  leaking information,” said Bo Kyi.

Anyone who goes to one of Burma’s prisons will notice a sign at the entrance which says: “You must follow the State Secrets Act.” Although the sign doesn't provide any further explanation of what constitutes a violation of this notorious law, Win Naing Kyaw’s case serves as a powerful demonstration of just how jealously the state guards its secrets in Burma.

Actually, however, Win Naing Kyaw and Thura Kyaw were sentenced to death under Section 3 of the 1950 State Emergency Act, which has been used many times over the past six decades to silence political dissidents.

Since the current regime seized power in 1988, however, it has not executed any prisoners sentenced to death, saying that as a provisional government, it would leave it to a future government to carry out executions.

“Anyone can be charged under the State Emergency Act, Section 3, if they disturb state security forces such as armed forces personnel,” said veteran lawyer Thein Nyunt, of the opposition National League for Democracy's legal committee.

“Burma’s State Emergency Act can be quite widely applied, allowing the state to charge anyone accused of discussing confidential matters relating to the state,” he said.

Following the 1988 uprising, well-known dissidents, including monk leader Kaviya and student leader Kyaw Min Yu were charged under Section 3 of the State Emergency Act. Kaviya was sentenced to death by a military court, while Kyaw Min Yu was sentenced to life imprisonment.

“The State Emergency Act are quite old as they were started in 1950. They don't fit with today,” said Thein Nyunt. “Using it could make many judicial problems in the country.”

Another infamous act used by the junta to punish dissidents is the Electronics Act. In recent years, from the trials of members of the prominent 88 Generation Students group to that of Win Naing Kyaw, dozens of dissidents have been charged under this law, receiving long prison sentences.

The act prohibits sending information, including photo and videos, which the authorities think can be used to damage the state’s image.

“Since the crackdown in September 2007, Internet users or anyone holding a camera or audio recorder is regarded as a potential enemy of the state in Burma,” said the AAPP's Bo Kyi.

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LuuSoeLay Wrote:
“You must follow the State Secrets Act.”

bribing to official?

unclear as what that said.

Therefore junta can tweet it as much as they want.

Myanmar Patriot 4 UMPF Wrote:
Okkar,You mean Kabir (not kaviya),muslim name. There never was saffron revolution;it was coined by English newspapers. Buddhist monks are not in the business of revolution. We have analysed footages and pictures. How come a dead body(a monk)had a waist bag to store money and valuables? Monks don't carry money. The Times (English newspaper) wrote that soldiers visited monasteries to loot gold,jewellery and cash from the monks. Have you ever heard of Buddhist monks hoarding such things?

Eric Johnston Wrote:
The information passed on does not compromise the security of Burma but might help to reinforce the security of ASEAN of which Burma is a part. The Than Shwe regime is a Trojan horse in ASEAN, and a blood-sucking parasite to Burma.

If it were known how the leaks were detected it may be possible to reduce the risk of detection in the future. Protecting sources is of course vital in both intelligence work and journalism.

okkar Wrote:
A monk leader name "kaviya" (ka-vi-ya)? It says a lot about the revolution... doesn't it?

Zam Mang Wrote:
We are in 21st century but Than Shwe may still be in 20th century. In this century, we may not be able to hide our wrongdoings from others forever. Than Shwe may not think in the first place that his dirty scheme will never be revealed. It will reveal more as the power of IT has been so strong even in Burma.

Myanmar Patriot 4 UMPF Wrote:
Can anyone tell us how betraying the state by leaking the state secrets can help usher in democracy? In our opinion it is quite the opposite.What is the purpose of this treasonous exercise?

THERE IS SUCH A THING AS OFFICIAL SECRET ACT in every country. Leaking state secrets is not only treasonous but also purile. Currying favours? If any political party or activist endorses it, it is tantamount to aiding and abetting treason.

No alien state must support internal enemy of another state. Further more, when someone seeks political asylum in a foreign country, he cannot use that country as a base for revolution in his home country; it is against international law! That Burmese fellow who has American citizenship - of convenience- can still be considered Burmese unless he has denounced Burmese citizenship. As such he is subjected to Burmese laws - good or bad. A person can have more than one citizenship. All Burmese people have the right to retain Burmese citizenship for life but for treason

kyaw Wrote:
I like the communist Vietnam and Lao and harsh Cambodia where there is no electronics act and illegally holding foreign currencies are enforced.

In these countries, even the roadside noodle soup shops receive and change all kids of foreign currencies, even the beggars and the prostitutes have more than one telephone with all electronic appliances (modem, internet, GPS, etc.).

M.haji Wrote:
As the sentencing and punishment come direct from top generals, the codes of law and judiciary are irrelevant and not applicable to the current plitical system.

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