Army Witnesses Spurn Court Summons Over Journalist’s Killing

By Lawi Weng 12 June 2015

RANGOON — Members of the Burma Army who were summoned to appear before a court investigating the killing of journalist Par Gyi while in military custody last year were no-shows on Wednesday, according to the victim’s widow.

The case’s seventh hearing in Kyaikmayaw Township, Mon State, this week was set to hear testimony from seven witnesses, including two leaders of the Burma Army battalion that detained Par Gyi, also known as Aung Kyaw Naing. The plaintiff Than Dar, Par Gyi’s widow, called five witnesses on Wednesday, but none was allowed to give testimony after the judge postponed proceedings in the military officers’ absence.

“We were at the court, but no one from the army attended,” she told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “The court did not even tell us for what reason they did not come.”

Than Dar said the next hearing was scheduled for Monday, when the Burma Army witnesses will again be summoned.

Than Dar’s months-long campaign to bring trial proceedings out into the open was dealt a blow last month with news that two soldiers being investigated by a secret military tribunal had been acquitted. Civil court proceedings began in February.

“My husband is a normal [civilian] person. His case should be investigated in a public court. This is why we are trying to do this in a public court,” said Than Dar.

Par Gyi was killed in military custody on Oct. 4, according to the Burma Army, which maintains that he was shot dead after attempting to seize a soldier’s gun. Par Gyi was in Mon State at a time when the Burma Army was involved in clashes with Karen rebels in the area, with the government saying he was working for the rebels. Than Dar and her supporters say he was freelance reporting at the time of his detention.

Nai Soe Myint, who accompanied Than Dar on her trip down to Mon State after she received word of her husband’s death, was among those due to provide testimony on Wednesday. He said the two Burma Army witnesses arrived at the courthouse only to immediately turn their motorbike around and leave.

“They did not say anything, they did not come inside the courthouse,” said Nai Soe Myint, who is general-secretary of the Mon National Party. “They just turned back their motorbike as soon as they arrive at the court compound. We may go to the next court hearing, but won’t be able to do anything again if they do not come.

“Who would dare to go and arrest them in their barracks? They will shoot back at you,” he added. “No one dares to arrest [them], even though they do not come to court.”

The Myanmar Human Rights Commission undertook an investigation into Par Gyi’s killing in October at the order of President Thein Sein, and his body was exhumed from a shallow grave on Nov. 5, revealing possible signs of torture.

The commission’s report in early December did not address the torture claims and was rejected by the victim’s family and their lawyer. It did, however, recommend that the case be brought before a civilian court.