The wife of a Myanmar journalist killed in military custody vowed Tuesday to use all resources available to back her demand for an independent probe into his death, as authorities filed criminal charges against at least 20 activists who participated in protests against the killing.
Freelance journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, was killed in military detention earlier this month after documenting clashes between government forces and rebels in Mon state, according to reports.
The Ministry of Defense had said that he was shot dead on Oct. 4 while trying to escape military custody in Mon state’s Kyaikmaraw township, accusing him of being an information officer for a branch of the rebel Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).
The DKBA however disavowed any links with Aung Kyaw Naing, who had served as a bodyguard for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the 1980s.
Aung Kyaw Naing’s wife, Thandar, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that she has filed a complaint at the Kyaikmaraw township police station, demanding that authorities conduct an investigation into the death of her husband, whose body had already been buried by the military.
Thandar called on the authorities to exhume the body in her presence as part of the probe.
“We would have to try by ourselves to get independent organizations to monitor and participate in those investigations,” she said, citing groups such as the U.N. Human Rights Council and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders as well as embassies of foreign nations.
She said that locally, she would seek the intervention of President Thein Sein himself as well as parliament, the military chief , and the Myanmar Human Rights Commission over the case.
Local and International nongovernmental organizations, including Thailand-based Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners (AAPP) and New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), have dismissed the Defense Ministry’s statement and joined in the call for a probe into the killing.
Civil society groups have also held mass protests in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon and in the northern city of Mandalay over the killing, demanding an immediate and independent probe.
A police officer from the No. 5 police station in Mandalay’s Aung Mye Tha San township told RFA on Tuesday that “around 20 people” who took part in the protest attended by more than 300 people were being charged under Article 18 of the Penal Code.
A conviction under Article 18 can result in a sentence of up to six months in prison.
“There are around 20 people—they violated Article 18, so they have been charged accordingly,” he said.
Organizers of the Mandalay protest told the Irrawaddy that they had requested permission from police on Sunday to gather, but had been refused because of the short notice.
Moe Thway of pro-democracy group Generation Wave told RFA’s Myanmar Service that some among the 1,000 people who had gathered Sunday in Yangon calling for an investigation into the reporter’s killing had also been charged for holding an unauthorized protest.
“My journalist friends informed me [on Monday] that a case had been opened,” he said.
“When I heard this, I inquired with the police station … [but] they gave vague answers. They confirmed that a case had been opened, but they did not say in what manner and against whom.”
The Irrawaddy quoted a police officer from Yangon’s Kyauktada township as saying that a lawsuit had been filed against Moe Thway and others under Article 18, but that the police were “still analyzing which of the protesters will be charged.”
The report said that Moe Thway had requested permission to hold the protest from the Kyauktada police on Friday, but had received no reply and decided to go ahead with the plan anyway.
AAPP secretary Ko Taik Naing told RFA that Aung Kyaw Naing’s death signified a step backward for President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, which set Myanmar on a course of democratic reform after taking power from the military regime in 2011.
“The loss of a citizen's rights and the lack of transparency [in this matter] go entirely against what the government is saying about progressing towards democracy and national reconciliation,” he said.
“That is why we are asking for the formation of an investigation commission so that the truth may be brought out in a transparent manner.”
Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, told RFA that because the military is responsible for Aung Kyaw Naing’s death, the government must conduct an independent investigation into the incident and publicly release its findings.
Intimidation of journalists
Under Myanmar’s nearly five decades of military rule, journalists were forbidden to cover certain topics such as corruption, poverty, and natural disasters, and government crackdowns landed many reporters in prison.
Thein Sein’s reformist administration has implemented a series of reforms to push Myanmar towards democracy, including new laws enshrining media freedom.
But rights groups say that the intimidation and arrest of journalists appear to be worsening in the former military state, even though official censorship has ended.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei and Nay Rane Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.