Circumstances of Release of 7 Soldiers in Rohingya Massacre Remain Unclear

By The Irrawaddy 27 May 2019

YANGON—It remained unclear on Monday how, and on whose authority, seven soldiers jailed by the military for killing 10 Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017 had been released.

Four officers and three soldiers were dismissed from the military and sentenced to 10 years with hard labor at a remote prison in April last year for their participation in the massacre, the military announced at the time.

On Monday, Reutersreported that the soldiers were released in November last year, after serving less than one year of their sentence, quoting two prison officials, two former fellow inmates and one of the soldiers.

However, on the same day, the military told The Irrawaddy it had no knowledge of the release, while the military-controlled Home Affairs Ministry, which is responsible for prisons across the country, said the soldiers were no longer incarcerated.

The permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defense, Brigadier General Aung Kyaw Hoe, said during a joint press conference with the Home Affairs Ministry that he had not heard about the release until the issue was raised in the media.

“We didn’t know about it,” he said.

Colonel Aung Khin Thein from the Office of the Judge Advocate General told reporters that a court martial sentenced seven soldiers to 10 years in prison for their involvement in the killings and that the soldiers had been transferred to prison.

He explained that after the verdict, anyone prosecuted by a court martial has the right to submit an appeal as well as petition to the military chief.

The colonel said each appeal submission is reviewed by a military appeal court chaired by officers of the rank of colonel or higher.

“So, we can’t confirm their release now,” he said.

He didn’t say, however, whether the seven soldiers had appealed or submitted petitions to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the current military chief.

On the other hand, the director general of the Prisons Department, U Myint Soe, said: “There is no one related to the killing in our prisons.”

Military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that the military would make an announcement on the issue later, as he did not have knowledge of the situation.

“What we can’t confirm now is [assuming the report of their release is correct] whether they were freed on appeals or petitions. We are now checking that out,” he said.

Last year, right after their sentences, rumorshad it that the soldiers were released on a presidential pardon. President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said at the time that the news was not true.

The killings of 10 Rohingya created international headlines when Reuters exposed the incident early last year. Two local reporters from the agency were arrested due to the report but later released on a presidential pardon early this month, after serving 16 months behind bars.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division deputy director Phil Robertson said the early release of the seven soldiers showed that Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and other Tatmadaw commanders don’t really consider the Rohingya to be human, and were never committed to seeing anyone held accountable for crimes committed in Rakhine State.

“An action like this shows why the Tatmadaw’s recently created ‘military court’ for Rakhine State is a bad joke and just another cog in Myanmar’s cover-up machine,” Robertson said, referring to a court set up by the military to investigate its conduct during a crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017.

The Irrawaddy reporter Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report from Naypyitaw.

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