RANGOON — Burma expert and journalist Bertil Lintner has known U Ko Ni by name for a long time, ever since he became acquainted with the network of NLD lawyers that U Ko Ni belonged to. The two finally met in person in 2012, when the Swedish journalist was allowed to legally re-enter Burma for the first time since 1989. But their friendship was tragically interrupted on Sunday, when a single gunman assassinated U Ko Ni outside Rangoon International Airport.
Following U Ko Ni’s death, Bertil Lintner spoke to The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Phyo Tha about what kind of person the NLD legal expert was. He also described his views about whether the killing was linked to the Rohingya crisis or if it was politically motivated.
Kyaw Phyo Tha: There are some people who want to link the assassination with the Rohingya issue. What do you think?
Bertil Lintner: No, that’s utter nonsense. U Ko Ni was a Muslim, yes, but he was a Burmese Muslim to begin with. And secondly, I knew U Ko Ni for years, and he never mixed [his own] religion with his political activism. His main concern was what he considered the highly undemocratic 2008 Constitution. He never talked about [his own] religion [overtly]; that was not an issue. For him, that was his personal faith, nothing else. And no one else can actually link it to the Rohingya; that’s absurd.
KPT: From your point of view, what kind of person was U Ko Ni?
BL: A man of high integrity whose main devotion was to make this country more democratic than it is. He was an expert on legal matters. I have organized media workshops here for a couple of years now, and U Ko Ni came to most of those workshops to talk about media law. He talked about laws that can be used against journalists like defamation, libel, trespassing, and so on. [He would] tell the journalists that, because the 2008 Constitution says there is freedom of the press—or freedom of expression—it doesn’t mean that you can get away with writing anything you want. And he was very professional.
KPT: There were 21 members on the study trip to Indonesia. Out of the 21, U Ko Ni was the only one who was gunned down. What do you think of the assassination—was it politically motivated?
BL: We can only speculate because we don’t have all the details yet, but so far, from what we know, he was targeted. The very fact that the gunman was waiting outside the airport for him to come out indicates that whoever ordered the gunman to kill U Ko Ni knew that he was coming back on the flight from overseas, and they knew the time of the flight. This points to a high degree of organization behind it. It was not a random shooting. It had nothing to do with religion. It had nothing to do with the Rohingya. It was a politically motivated assassination.
KPT: So there were some people or associations behind this assassination?
BL: Definitely, yes. It’s hard to imagine this gunman was acting alone. There’s always a group who form a conspiracy, you can say. We can look at other political assassinations in this country’s history. There’s never been a lone gunman. This was a politically motivated murder, and it should viewed as exactly that. And we should try to find out which group was behind it.