The Irrawaddy

Is the Judiciary in Myanmar Under Threat?

Ko Kyaw Kha: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. The title of our discussion is “Is the judiciary in Myanmar under threat?” I am reporter Kyaw Kha of the Irrawaddy news agency. Myanmar Lawyers Network chairman U Aung Soe Oo and Committee Against Injustice chairman U Myat Kyaw will join the discussion.

During the latest hearing on the murder of U Ko Ni, a group of people wearing T-shirts printed with the phrase “ Eat well (as your days are numbered)” showed their support for accused murderer Kyi Lin, who murdered U Ko Ni and Ko Ne Win. They took the phrase to be their slogan, and people have been talking about this since then. What is your opinion about the movement that took place at the court of law, Ko Myat Kyaw?

Ko Myat Kyaw: They came to the court wearing T-shirts printed with the slogan “Eat well (as your days are numbered)” and the image of a pointing finger. Before that, Ko Thet Myo Oo of Thaketa wore such a T-shirt and rode a motorcycle around. Earlier, news emerged that the murder suspect Kyi Lin threatened someone by saying “Your days are numbered.” Did he threaten the media or lawyers? All these incidents are interrelated.

As a member of the public, I want to say that the rule of law has completely collapsed in Myanmar. This is because the court where he made the threat was a district court, a court that is bestowed with one of the highest powers in Myanmar. They dared to show disrespect to the law at such a court. First, it was contempt of court. Second, it was a breach of morals. Such acts are very dangerous for our country. Amid worsening public security and fear, reports of rape and murder cases are frequent and the rule of law has collapsed. The Ministry of Home Affairs is completely responsible for all of these. We think the ministry is guilty of dereliction of duty for the rule of law. This indicates that we need a ministry and people who are responsible for the rule of law and to ask whether it is necessary for the people to take this responsibility.

KKK: U Aung Soe Oo, what do you think, as a notary public and an advocate, of their movement, which took place at a court of law and not at a food charity?

U Aung Soe Oo: Yesterday, the chairmen of four lawyers associations signed a statement concerning the incident. As I said there, I would like to approach the incident from the points of view of a member of the public, of a secretary of the association of lovers of Myanmar literature and of a legal professional.

As a member of the public I have been wondering: Who were they threatening? As they were wearing T-shirts printed with a pointing finger, they were threatening anyone they saw in front of them. When they were face to face with judges, they were threatening the judges. When they were so with lawyers, they were threatening the lawyers. When they were so with police officers, they were threatening the police officers. The image of the pointing finger on the T-shirt has a wide range of implications.

Every Myanmar national knows the implied meaning of the Burmese phrase “Eat well.” As I said yesterday, we were asked to have a hearty meal at a biryani restaurant or at a food charity when we were younger. They purposefully chose the phrase “Eat well.” There are many Burmese words that have different meanings in different situations. In the past in rural areas we would say, “Sleep well so that you won’t have a face to wash next morning.” Its implied meaning is “I will behead you tonight.” Every human being in Myanmar understands this. They purposefully said they did not understand the implied meaning of the phrase “Eat well.” People sometimes say the phrase when they are in a brawl. The phrase “Eat well” is the parlance not of educated or civilized people but of gangsters. The implied meaning of the phrase is “Your days are numbered as we are going to kill you soon.”

It is said that Kyi Lin uttered the phrase at a hearing the other day. It is also said that Kyi Lin used the phrase among lawyers and police officers. It is also said to be true. As we are legal professionals, we tried to confirm it with police officers, who told us they hadn’t heard of this. As we were about to conclude that it was just a Facebook post that could be either true or fake news, some people wearing T-shirts printed with “Eat well” visited the court in support of the accused murderer. Therefore, it is certain that Kyi Lin had threatened some groups. Who was he threatening? He was threatening every organization that was trying to restore the rule of the law. When we look at the people who supported the accused murderer, who had been convicted of smuggling Buddha images and is now being accused of double murder, we can see clearly that they were supporting the murder. In other words, they are instigating criminal acts even in their interview with the media. They are accomplices. We are not talking just about the murder of U Ko Ni but also about the threat to the judiciary and the people. Their message is clear: The days of the people are numbered.

As they have threatened the rule of law, we, as legal professionals, could not accept this. What would happen if such a mentality spreads among the public? We have to think of future generations. We were worried that future generations would inherit such practices. If they came to the court of law and said “Your days are numbered,” the judiciary would collapse. We cannot accept this. It is very dangerous. Therefore, we released a statement to condemn their movement and urge the government to take action against them.

KKK: What are your expectations for the rule of law, Ko Myat Kyaw? What do you think of the murder of U Ko Ni?

KMK: I would like to talk about it briefly. U Ko Ni was assassinated at the biggest international airport with maximum security using CCTV. He was shot in the back of his head. Ko Ne Win tried to apprehend the assassin by attacking him with a piece of brick and was shot to death too. When Kyi Lin was arrested, his accomplices were detained. However, we still do not know why they killed U Ko Ni. It was a political assassination because U Ko Ni was a lawyer who had been relentlessly trying to amend the 2008 Constitution. There is also an organization that has formally pledged to protect the Constitution in Myanmar. I am not accusing anyone, but it was a conflict between those who wanted to amend the constitution and those who wanted to protect it.

When the suspects were formally charged and appeared at the trial, problems arose as some people wearing T-shirts printed with “Your days are numbered” came to the court in support of the suspects. It was said that Kyi Lin was threatening the media and lawyers. At the rally in support of the Myanmar army the other day, U Hla Swe was seen apparently smiling, holding that T-shirt. Photos of Aye Ne Win, a grandson of the late dictator Ne Win, and hate-monger U Wirathu surrounded by people wearing that T-shirt at the rally emerged. Taking all these things into account, it was a political conspiracy, although what we re looking at is just a murder trial. And those who had a hand in it are backed by a powerful organization. Moreover, they attacked those who wanted to amend the Constitution in their own interests. They carried out assassinations and violent attacks in major cases and hurled verbal abuse and hacked Facebook accounts in minor cases. They carried out these activities step by step.

My expectations for the trial of the assassination of U Ko Ni are a fair trial and a society where there is no place for such criminals. I want justice for U Ko Ni and Ko Ne Win. The verdict should set an example for our society.

UASO: Listening to what Ko Myat Kyaw said, I felt sad for the Myanmar army. I love Myanmar and I still do. The Myanmar army should be loved, should be supported. It is a good thing. However, I felt deeply sad when I saw a former high-ranking military officer holding the T-shirt in support of the accused murderers at the rally. I cannot express how I felt then.

KKK: How do their “Your days are numbered” movement or threats affect the judiciary?

UASO: It surely affects the judiciary. First, they broke into a secure area of the judiciary. If they had come to the suspects to greet them and offer them meals, it would have been a normal affair. However, it was just a threat to the judiciary. Second, it took the form of a conflict because there was a large group of people who were upset about the movement on one hand and thousands of people who supported it on the other hand. They were instigating the two groups by setting them on a collision course. They did it deliberately to undermine stability and breached Section 504. It was a crime because they did so during the trial to put pressure on the judiciary. The judiciary could have changed its direction because the judge has to decide in fear of reprisal. The judge, prosecutors and prosecution witnesses could have been forced to testify in fear. When threatened, the judiciary may collapse. There would be conflicts in the court if we gave in to such threats.

I am worried about the next hearing. I am worried neither about U Ko Ni nor about the NLD and other organizations. I am worried about the people of Myanmar and the collapse of the judiciary. If the judiciary were to collapse, it would be very dangerous in our country. Their act not only destroys the judiciary but also incites conflict among the public. The problem should be handled carefully as the situation is very dangerous.

KKK: What has your committee been doing about their movement, Ko Myat Kyaw?

KMK: We have always said that no society accepts killing and violence. I can’t accept violence and Myanmar society can’t accept violence. We must express our attitude that we cannot accept it through ways and means that do not interfere with the judiciary at next hearings, but we will not stage protests with shouting at the court. We must express our attitude clearly. Otherwise, the judiciary, which is deteriorating at present, will collapse.

In addition to undermining the judiciary, it can set a bad example for future generations. There are many phrases such as “Your days are numbered” usually used by gangsters and criminals. They tend to use such phrases when they are under attack and cannot react. It is a threat. If we accept this, it would develop into a mindset that supports killing and violence and it would be very dangerous for the country. We need to strongly express our attitude toward them peacefully. Therefore, we released a statement urging the public to join members of our central committee and Yangon region committee in peaceful protest against those who resort to killing and violence at 9 a.m. on Feb. 9.

KKK: The NLD has been advocating the rule of law and amendment of the Constitution, especially during the 2015 general election. Has there been any progress during the tenure of the incumbent government? Some people are not satisfied with the situation.

UASO: It is difficult to amend the Constitution as it was enacted in such a way that it cannot be amended. We are trying to amend it in accordance with legal and international standards. We are looking for ways and means to amend it because the public has to suffer under it. We will amend it in the interest of the people. If we are to build a democratic republic, the Constitution and all the laws must be in accordance with the international norms. The 2008 Constitution is a sub-standard constitution. We must amend it, but we need to decide whether to amend it gradually or completely. We must adopt strategies and tactics. We cannot leave it as it is. It is the responsibility of the people, the state and the government to amend the Constitution. I hope they are able to do it. We must do it.

As for the rule of law, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that the rule of law is essential for development and for a democratic republic. Deterioration of the rule of law can tarnish the image of the country and the governments can collapse. Therefore, a committee was formed for the restoration of the rule of law. Now the name of the committee has been changed and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi no longer has the post of chairperson. A new coordination committee was formed for the restoration of the rule of law recently. Some people are working for the rule of law.

If you asked me whether I am satisfied with efforts to restore the rule of law, I would have to say that we are working on it but the public is being threatened. I would like to ask the public to understand people who are working for the rule of law like us. The rule of law is also being threatened, just like the public. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the public and the government. I would like to urge them to cooperate on the rule of law.

KKK: Could you please briefly talk about the rule of law, Ko Myat Kyaw?

KMK: I want to say clearly that the rule of law cannot be restored without amending the 2008 Constitution or replacing it with a new one. Peace cannot be restored without amending the Constitution. The power and authority to work with the people cannot be achieved without amending the Constitution. I would like to urge the NLD to amend the Constitution or replace it with a federal democratic one.

KKK: Thanks for your interesting comments, U Aung So Oo and Ko Myat Kyaw.