Myanmar police on Friday said they have arrested two suspects in the murder of a news magazine publisher, saying the crime was in retaliation for a romantic affair, rather than for his critical coverage of the military, as many observers in the country had feared.
The body of Wai Yan Heinn, the 27-year-old publisher and editor of Iron Rose, was found slumped in a chair with 15 stab wounds in his in his chest and abdomen on April 16, after neighbors reported a strong odor coming from his first-floor office in Pazundaung township in the commercial capital Yangon.
Aung Ko Ko, a cargo ship officer and the husband of a woman with whom Wai Yan Heinn allegedly had an affair, has been charged with murdering the publisher, the Myanmar Police Force said in a post on its Facebook page.
Yangon police arrested both Aung Ko Ko and his wife on Wednesday, and they have formed a special team to investigate this case.
Police said Wai Yan Heinn and Aung Ko Ko’s wife Al Ni had been in contact on Facebook for the past eight months, according to a report by the online journal The Irrawaddy.
A friend informed Aung Ko Ko that the two were having an affair, so he allegedly locked his wife and son in his home in Yangon’s Mingalar Taung Nyunt township on April 11, prompting Al Ni to call Wai Yan Heinn for help, the report said.
Wai Yan Heinn broke the lock on the door and took Al Ni and her son to a hotel in Lanmadaw township on the same day, said police, it said.
Aung Ko Ko then reportedly phoned Wai Yan Heinn before going to the journalist’s office on April 14, where he is suspected of killing him and taking his iPhone, the report said. He picked up his wife and son from the hotel and fled to Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay region the next day.
Journalism groups weigh in
Before news of the love triangle emerged, journalism rights groups spoke out on the murder, urging the Myanmar government to quickly resolve the crime and bring Wai Yan Heinn’s killer to justice.
The groups believed that his murder was in retaliation for recent reports on Myanmar’s former ruling military generals and their business associates, as well as his reference to the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a “drone president.”
“Authorities should leave no stone unturned in identifying and apprehending Wai Yen Heinn’s killer,” said Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists in a statement issued on Thursday.
“Myanmar is fast emerging as a country where media murders go unpunished,” he said. “The cycle of impunity and deadly violence should be broken now by promptly bringing Wai Yen Heinn's murderer to justice.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday echoed the CPJ’s also called for a swift investigation of Wai Yan Heinn’s murder.
“We offer our condolences to Wai Yan Heinn’s family and colleagues, and we urge the authorities to allocate enough resources to the investigation so that it can be carried out quickly and thoroughly, and does not ignore the possible links to the victim’s work as a journalist,” said Benjamin Ismail, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, in a statement.
Killings of other journalists
Last December, Soe Moe Tun, an investigative reporter for Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group was found beaten to death on the side of a road in the town of Monywa in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region.
Soe Moe Tun, whose death marked the fifth killing of a journalist in Myanmar since 1999, had been reporting on sensitive topics, such as illegal logging and a controversial mining project, before he was murdered.
As of January, police had arrested three suspects, but no additional progress has been made in solving the case, according to local media reports.
“The family of Soe Moe Tun, a journalist murdered more than four months ago, is still awaiting significant progress in that investigation, so any attempt to stint on the resources assigned to this latest investigation would send a very negative message to journalists and would foster an unacceptable climate of impunity,” Ismail said.
In October 2014, freelance journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, was shot and killed in military custody in Kyaikmayaw township in southeastern Myanmar’s Mon state, after he was arrested while covering fighting between the government army and ethnic Karen rebels.
The following month, a military court acquitted two soldiers of his death, and police stopped investigating the case in April 2016 although another court ruled in a separate civil case that Par Gyi had died of “unnatural causes,” according to media reports at the time.
Despite a series of reforms to push Myanmar towards democracy, including laws enshrining media freedom, enacted by the former administration of Thein Sein, authorities continue to use various means to intimidate media and restrict freedom of expression.
Myanmar remains in the bottom quarter of RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, ranked 143rd of 180 countries.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rosanne Gerin.