Doctors who performed an autopsy of a slain Myanmar journalist have found that five gunshot wounds caused his death, his wife said Thursday, a day after his corpse displayed traces of torture.
A forensics team exhumed the body of Aung Kyaw Naing—also known as Par Gyi—on Wednesday after his widow Thandar filed a complaint with police, demanding that authorities conduct an investigation into the death of her husband and unearth the body in her presence.
According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Defense, government soldiers shot dead Aung Kyaw Naing last month for allegedly attempting to flee custody as he reported on fighting between Karen ethnic rebels and army soldiers in southeastern Myanmar’s Mon state.
Doctors said they found one gunshot wound on his chin, two on his chest, and one each on his thigh and heel, Thandar told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The shot under his chin seems to have been fired from close range, which split his jawbone,” she said.
“The doctors did not say anything else,” she said. “But they said that these facts would be used in court testimony when the case is submitted.”
Soe Aung of the Institute of Medicine, one of the doctors involved in the autopsy, said he had never seen such a gunshot wound on the chin except “on people who have shot themselves and committed suicide,” according to Thandar, a prominent activist.
“Just that point refutes the claim that he [Aung Kyaw Naing] was shot while escaping,” Thandar said.
Government soldiers have claimed Aung Kyaw Naing was an information officer with the rank of captain in a Karen armed ethnic rebel group, she said.
‘Traces of gunpowder’
Thandar raised questions about the autopsy results, saying she found a hole in Aung Kyaw Naing’s chest just after his body was dug up from a shallow grave in Kyaikmayaw township in Mon state, but not one on his back where a bullet would have exited.
“They [the doctors] said there were traces of gunpowder, therefore they concluded it was a gunshot wound,” she said.
“But to me, I think that if it was a gunshot wound, there should be a hole going right through [his body]. X-rays have shown there was no bullet inside, but they are saying that it was a gunshot wound.”
When the corpse was exhumed, it showed signs of trauma consistent with torture, some observers, including Thandar and her lawyer, said, citing a crushed skull and broken jaw and teeth.
Robert San Aung, the lawyer representing Thandar, said he “did not see anything that looked like gunshot wounds” on the journalist’s body and that Aung Kyaw Naing likely died “as a result of torture.”
After the exhumation, the forensic team took the corpse to the General Hospital in the Mon state capital Moulemein for an autopsy to confirm the identity and determine the cause of death.
The corpse was turned over to Thandar who planned to take it to Aung Kyaw Naing’s home in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon for a proper Buddhist burial.
But now government authorities have taken the remains to conduct DNA testing, Thandar said.
The doctors who performed the postmortem will have to testify in court when a hearing on the journalist’s death takes place, she said.
Group of monks
A group of up to nine unidentified monks went to the hospital where the autopsy was being performed to try to prevent the removal of the body from the hospital in Mon state, according to Nyan Lin, a member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Organization, who observed the exhumation.
They did not answer questions about who they were or from which monastery they came, he said.
“They said that in Mon state there is a custom that a body cannot be transported to another place,” he said. “But if the burial takes place in Mon state, they will assist in every way.”
The monks went so far as to insinuate that if Aung Kyaw Naing’s body left Mon state, it could cause disturbances in another state, such as Rakhine state, he said.
But Naing Ngwe Thein, a Mon leader, said although people are usually buried in the same location where they die, there was nothing to indicate what the monks said was a Mon belief.
“In this case, the body has already been transported within the state to Moulemein hospital, quite a long way [from Kyaikmayaw] and passing through several villages,” he said. “I think it’s okay. Nothing will happen if the body is transported.”
Reported by Nayrein Kyaw and Myo Zaw. Translated by Soe Thinn. Reported in English by Roseanne Gerin.