Human Rights

‘We Must Push for an Investigation, but I Can’t Do It Alone’

By Htet Naing Zaw 31 October 2014

The news of freelance journalist Aung Kyaw Naing’s killing in military custody this month has sent shockwaves through Burma’s media industry and human rights circles. The deceased, also known as Par Gyi, disappeared while covering clashes between government troops and rebel fighters, and was announced shot dead by the military nearly one month later.

His widow, human rights activist Thandar, has been pressing law enforcement authorities to investigate the circumstances of his death, and bring the perpetrators of his killing to justice. She recently spoke to The Irrawaddy about that effort.

Question: What happened in Kyaikmayaw when you went there to search for your missing husband?

Answer: I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and only found out via Facebook on October 4 that my husband Par Gyi was missing. I arrived back home on October 15 and went to Kyaikmayaw on October 19. Local journals quoted the Mon State border affairs minister saying that my husband was arrested by Captain San Min Aung from Battalion 28. So, I went to the battalion.

I met Captain San Min Aung there. I told him that I was Par Gyi’s wife and had come because the local journals said Par Gyi was arrested by the army’s Light Infantry Battalion 208. I told him that my husband was not affiliated with the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army [DKBA] and that I had adequate evidence to prove that he was not a rebel. I told him that if they wanted me to go through the courts, I would do so. I asked him to let me see my husband. He replied that he was among those who had captured Par Gyi, but he did not know my husband’s current whereabouts.

The captain said the Mon State border security affairs minister was present when Par Gyi was taken to the battalion. He said so in the presence of me, Daw Naw Ohn Hla and three central executives from the Mon National Party. Naing Soe Myint, one of the central executive members of the Mon National Party, called the border security affairs minister directly. We put the call on speaker phone and talked before Captain San Min Aung. Naing Soe Myint said we were with Captain San Min Aung and he said the minister was present when Ko Par Gyi was arrested. The minister replied that he knew nothing more than Captain San Min Aung did and that he was ill and could see no one. He told us to ask the Southeast Command if we wanted to know more. Captain San Min Aung also urged us to do so.

So, we left the battalion. Then we reported the case to the Kyaikmayaw Myoma Police Station. I reported the case as unlawful arrest of my husband. The police told me that I could not do so and that I could only open a missing persons case. They asked me to come back a week later if I wanted to open the case as an unlawful arrest. So, I opened a missing persons case. It was October 19.

The army issued the statement that Par Gyi was shot dead on October 23. At that time I was in Thailand with the Democracy and Peace Women’s Network to receive a human rights award from the N-Peace Network in Bangkok. I came back to Burma after I heard the news. I arrived on October 25 and went straight to Kyaikmayaw. Police said they had now closed the case as my husband was dead. Then I said I would like to open other charges and the police told me that they could not do so because of instructions from above. Then I asked the head of the police station to tell me the name of that upper level authority and he replied that he could not. Then I told him that I would open a complaint at the district-level police station.

It was 3:30 in the afternoon when I arrived at the district police station. I was asked to wait until 4:15 pm as the district police head was on duty outside. I was told by phone at 4:15 that I was allowed to open the case. I was told to open the case back at the Kyaikmayaw Myoma Police Station. Then I went back to Kyaikmayaw from Moulmein and was allowed to open the case at 6:30 pm. The case was reported as a fatal incident. I will consult with [lawyer Robert] San Aung about filing other charges.

Q: Which charges would you like to file?

A: I would like to prosecute under the charges of unlawful arrest, torture, and killing and effacing the body.

Q: You said the police station mentioned ‘instructions from above.’ What do you think that means?

A: I told him [the head of the police station] that I had to explain [my husband’s death] to my three children; that I came to the police station because I thought I would get legal assistance as a citizen. I can’t file the complaint directly to Parliament and I can only file it to the police station. I cried and asked if they did not have sympathy toward me. He [the head of police station] said that he was facing lots of pressure; that he was deeply sympathetic toward me; that he would like to open the case, but he could not and asked me to understand him.

Q: How does it feel to be denied the fundamental rights of a citizen?

A: In that regard, Par Gyi was also denied his rights. If he was thought to be guilty, he should have been brought to trial and prosecuted according to the law. Instead, he was killed unlawfully, which is a grave violation of his fundamental rights.

I was denied the right to open a case by the Kyaikmayaw Police Station because I was the wife of Par Gyi. I faced many delays in filing the complaint. Intelligence agents were tailing me while I was running back and forth between police stations. This is a grave violation of my rights. Who will guarantee my security when I go to Kyaikmayaw to file other charges?

Q: What is your next step? For example, will you have the body exhumed?

A: Now I have reported the case to the police as a fatal incident and the police therefore have to exhume the body and perform forensics tests. I have asked the police to hand the body over to me so that I can bury the body back in his native place. We have to push the police to take quick steps. But I alone can’t do it, and therefore I would like to ask student leaders, politicians, activists, the people and other organizations to give me a hand. Only then might justice for my late husband be done. I need the help of anyone who can to get back the body of my late husband, to have an independent investigation committee formed and to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Q: Given that the government in recent years has trumpeted its purported democratic values, what would you like to say to the president and the commander-in-chief?

A: The ruler has to act as parent to his/her citizens, which is the traditional, basic precept for rulers throughout successive periods in our society. Democratic norms of today also say so. In fact, the president is the most responsible person for his citizen being killed unlawfully. Responsibility also lies with the commander in chief of the Defense Services. The commander in chief and the president have repeatedly called for respecting, abiding by and safeguarding the 2008 Constitution. But now, a citizen was denied his fundamental rights, as enshrined in the Constitution. He was arrested without warrant; his arrest was not reported to the police; and he was killed unlawfully.

I would like to know how the president and the commander in chief will respond to this, and I would like to ask them to respond. I would like to let both the president and the commander in chief know that the case is now not the case of Pary Gyi’s family alone. They have to give an answer to all politicians, activists and the people. They have to give a satisfactory answer to the people with accountability and responsibility, and hold the perpetrators accountable. Only then will the people and the international community believe ours is a democratic country.