A military court’s decision to acquit and unconditionally free two Myanmar soldiers accused of killing a freelance journalist prompted his widow and lawyer on Monday to vow to appeal the case to higher authorities, following a hearing on the case in a southeastern province.
Reporter Aung Kyaw Naing—also known as Par Gyi—died in military custody last October after he was arrested while covering fighting between the government army and Karen ethnic rebels in southeastern Myanmar’s Mon state. The country’s Ministry of Defense said he was shot to death by government soldiers who claimed the journalist was trying to flee custody because he was an information officer with the rank of captain in the Karen armed ethnic rebel group.
Doctors who performed an autopsy on his exhumed corpse last November found that five gunshot wounds, including one on Par Gyi’s chin, two on his chest, and one each on his thigh and heel, caused his death, and that his corpse showed signs of torture.
The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission [MHRC] conducted an investigation and recommended the case be heard in a civilian court. But the military overruled and said it would be held in a military court because Aung Kyaw Naing died during conflict.
“We will let the president, commander-in-chief and people from the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission know about it,” said Robert San Aung, the prosecuting lawyer representing Aung Kyaw Naing’s widow Thandar, referring to the disputability of the military court’s decision under the country’s constitution.
He made the comment to RFA’s Myanmar Service during the latest hearing related to the case at Kyaikmayaw township court in Mon state.
Thandar said she would send a letter to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing because the military court released the two soldiers, Lance-corporal Kyaw Kyaw Aung and Private Naing Lin Htun, accused of murdering her husband.
"Although I filed a case on behalf of Par Gyi’s death, I am a witness, and deputy chief of police Tin Oo of Kyaikmayaw township is a plaintiff today,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “ I have to testify about everything I have done. I have seen and heard about his case.”
Differences in testimony results
The hearing came about after the MHRC report issued on May 8 noting differences in the results of testimony by division military headquarters and what the prosecuting attorney had.
For example, when the trial of the two accused soldiers was set at a military court, the chairman of military court, Colonel Win Zaw Oo, said Par Gyi was shot by a lance corporal, said Robert San Aung.
“We complained that the wound should be in the back or side if he was shot by a lance corporal, but why did he have a wound under his chin?” he said. “ The military official couldn’t answer our question.”
The trail was set after a week so that the military officials would have time to provide answers, he added.
“Actually, the chairman of the military court, Colonel Win Zaw Oo, should take action against these military officials according to their testimonies that day,” he said.
The two military officials said Aung Kyaw Naing snatched a gun from one soldier, which discharged and shot him, Robert San Aung said.
“Even if it is true, Par Gyi should be have been dead at that point from the bullet that went into his chin and exited his head, but he was shot with many other bullets again,” he said. “It is not reasonable.
“The testimonies were approved by division military headquarters, but not yet by the commander-in-chief. We are going to request a new trial or that the case be handed over to a civilian court.”
Thandar blasted the MHRC report, saying it was neither comprehensive nor impartial, and called for a new and independent investigation into her husband’s death, Democratic Voice of Burma reported.
MHRC chairman Sit Myint told RFA that his organization recommended that Aung Kyaw Naing’s murder be held in a civilian court according to the constitution and to ensure transparency. The commission then submitted the latest information it had on the case to the Ministry of Defense.
“We examined and searched the details everything related to this case and put what we saw in our report, he said. “The military court did that case within the power and rights it has. We [the commission] can’t do anything more than what we have done. I don’t know what the lawmakers will do for the next step.”
He pointed out that the commission could not request a new trial on the case that was already made under orders from military or civilian courts.
“It is almost impossible that we can do something about that case,” he said.
Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint and Khin Khin Ei of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.