Court Eases Charges in Beating Death of Myanmar Comedian as Suspects Win Appeal

By Zue Zue 16 December 2019

YANGON—The Yangon Region High Court on Friday changed the charges against three suspects who allegedly beat Facebook comedian Aung Yell Htwe to death from murder to “voluntarily causing grievous hurt.”

The Yangon Eastern District Court officially charged the three suspects in January, a year after the comedian was beaten to death.

Than Htut Aung and Pyae Phyo Aung were charged under Section 302 (2) of the Penal Code for allegedly fatally beating Aung Yell Htwe. Kyaw Zaw Han was charged under Section 302 (2)/114 for allegedly aiding and abetting the crime.

The defendants then submitted an appeal of the charges to the regional high court. After 10 months of hearings, the regional high court overruled the district court.

The judge cited a number of legal arguments for his decision to change the charges, including the fact that it is not clear which one of the three was responsible for the fatal injuries caused to the comedian.

The judge ruled that Than Htut Aung and Pyae Phyo Aung would be charged under Section 325 of the Penal Code for voluntarily causing grievous hurt to Aung Yell Htwe, and Kyaw Zaw Han would be charged under Section 325/114 for aiding and abetting the crime.

While the previous murder charge under Section 302 (2) carries a maximum of 10 years in prison with hard labor, the maximum punishment under Section 325 is seven years in prison.

Moreover, according to Section 496 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, bail can be granted for those charged under Section 325, the lawyer for Kyaw Zaw Han told The Irrawaddy. He said that as the case is transferred back to Yangon Eastern District and the trial continues, applications for bail would be made for them.

Aung Yell Htwe, a popular comedian on Facebook, was severely beaten by a group of men at a New Year’s Eve party on Dec. 31, 2017. He underwent surgery at Yangon General Hospital for his injuries but died hours later.

A forensic pathologist from Yangon General Hospital testified in the murder trial that the comedian died from severe head trauma including skull fracturing and hemorrhaging of the membranes surrounding the brain, resulting from blows with a hard, blunt object.

The Eastern District Court had previously dropped the case after questioning only 14 witnesses and before hearing testimony from either the pathologist or police investigators, or reviewing CCTV records.

President U Win Myint then ordered the case re-investigated following a public outcry. Yangon’s Eastern District Court then resumed the trial in October 2018.

A month earlier, in September 2018, Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Commission filed cases against U Han Htoo, the attorney general for Yangon Region, and five other officials including a judge, legal officers and a police officer for accepting more than 70 million kyats (nearly US$46,300) to drop the case against the three suspects. U Han Htoo was dismissed from his position and is now on trial with the five other officials.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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