WASHINGTON—A Burmese student leader has called on fellow pro-democracy activists to stick to the rule of law in the wake of the beating to death of 1988 student activist Ko Thet Naing Oo.
“The time has arrived for all of us to be very careful not to emulate the ways of those individuals who want to solve problems through violent means,” Min Ko Naing told RFA’s Burmese service.
WARNING: This story contains a graphic image.
“We need to be mindful and be alert against those who challenge us in a violent way or provoke us into losing control. All of the democracy forces and the student youth are more united now,” he said.
“We have consolidated our unity. We know now that they can infiltrate amongst the student youth at any time with violent means and challenge us. We will only respond in accordance with the law in a calm manner and in straightforward ways," he added.
The time has arrived for all of us to be very careful not to emulate the ways of those individuals who want to solve problems through violent means,
“I would like to say this clearly and precisely today: we will not bow our heads and take the injustice unchallenged.”
Ko Thet Naing Oo, who is also known as Pya Laung, a former student leader and political prisoner, was allegedly beaten to death by police, fire brigade and members of the state-sponsored Union and Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) on March 17 on the streets of Rangoon.
A prominent student leader during the 1988 pro-democracy movement who later joined an armed student militia in the jungle, he served a 14-year jail term from 1998.
Local residents who attended Ko Thet Naing Oo’s funeral on March 20 said they remembered a quiet, religious man who was widely liked.
“He was never like that, either while in prison and while outside. Everyone said that he was very popular,” one resident told RFA.
“When we went to his funeral in the ward, we learned more about him. There were so many friends who loved him. The entire ward found the incident intolerable. Apart from being in jail for political reasons, he hadn't done anything against the authorities. He meditated often, went to the meditation center, and he was quite a religious person,” the resident said.
Police in the Dagon ward of Kyimyintaing township of Rangoon have detained two men, Ko Win Myint and Ko Khin Maung Zaw, who tried to help Ko Thet Naing Oo during the attack for obstructing justice. Calls to Dagon police station during office hours went unanswered.
Ko Thet Naing Oo’s body showed injuries to the face, head, body, and base of the skull, strongly suggesting he had been beaten to death, his attorney U Khin Maung Shein said.
“We haven't yet received the written medical statement but the doctors have already told us that he had sustained injuries and that he was beaten to death,” the attorney said.
“When we cremated his body the other day, there were injuries on his face, on his head and at the back of his skull. There were injuries also on his body. The injuries were quite severe. The one on the back of the skull was the major one. We could see that,” he added.
U Khin Maung Shein said police had exceeded the limits of their authority in the attack on the former student leader.
Another student activist said the method used to catch Ko Thet Naing Oo--by shouting "Thief, thief!"--had also been used against political activists during the 1988 protests. Those caught were held as thieves, and transferred from lock-up to lock-up around the country, in a travesty of the country's penal code.
The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) has called on Burma’s secretive military junta to carry out a full investigation into the killing. Police are currently believed to be holding three men on suspicion of taking part in the attack, but no murder enquiry has been opened, the attorney said.
Original reporting in Burmese by Ko Nyo. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.