Case of Slain Journalist Returns to Court, But Family Say They Weren’t Invited

By Nobel Zaw 30 April 2015

RANGOON — A court inquiry into the death of a journalist while in the custody of the Burma Army continued on Thursday, amid claims by his family that they had been left in the dark about the proceedings.

The second of three scheduled hearings in the case of freelance reporter Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, was held in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township, where three key witnesses were called upon for testimony. The next and last hearing has been set for May 11.

Par Gyi’s widow, Ma Thandar, told The Irrawaddy that she was not informed of Thursday’s hearing and was previously unaware of an earlier session held in April. She further claimed that the witnesses called into court were unlikely to present compelling evidence.

Par Gyi was apprehended in conflict-affected Mon State by the Burma Army late last September, and remained missing for several weeks as Ma Thandar, a renowned human rights activist, repeatedly called for a search.

Weeks later, the military informed a member of the Interim Press Council that he had been killed while attempting to seize a weapon and flee from custody. The Council was informed that he had been buried shortly after his death. The military did not identify Par Gyi as a journalist, instead portraying him as a member of a rebel armed group.

On Oct. 31, President Thein Sein ordered the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to investigate Par Gyi’s death. His body was exhumed from the grave on Nov. 5, revealing possible signs of torture. The corpse was later transferred to Rangoon and buried among hundreds of supporters.

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

In February of this year, Ma Thandar appealed to Kyaikmayaw authorities to expedite the hearing. She said that despite several requests for a ruling, she had not been informed of any of the court dates.

“I didn’t even know there was a session today,” she told The Irrawaddy. She said she was told that she had been sent a summons, but she maintains that she never received it.

“I asked [the judge] to show me a copy of the summons but they wouldn’t let me see. Summonses are sent by the post office, so I asked for the post voucher but the judge wouldn’t show it to me,” she said.

Ma Thandar expressed concern that the case would not result in justice. She said the witnesses were far removed from the events and hardly knew her late husband.

The court heard testimony from three men on Thursday: Phone Myint, a local dockworker who sighted Par Gyi before the incident; Phay Than, a local administrator; and Hla Soe Myint, a motorcycle driver.

“Phay Than didn’t know and didn’t see Par Gyi,” she said. “He only heard that he was caught by the military, and that was several hours later.”

The family’s lawyer, Robert San Aung, displayed similar concerns.

“I’m afraid this [investigation] will lead us further from the truth,” he said.