Death Sentence for Maungdaw Attacker Raises Questions About State Executions in Burma

By Moe Myint 14 February 2017

RANGOON – The head of the Sittwe police, Lt-Col Win Naung, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the man believed to have led the Maungdaw border outpost attacks—in which nine policemen were killed—was sentenced to death on Friday by a district judge.

The man, whose name was released on Tuesday by the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar as Uruma, was arrested by security forces on Oct. 10, the day after the attacks. He reportedly confessed to investigators to having planned for three months to ambush the border guard posts with the help of local Muslims in Maungdaw.

Lt-Col Win Naung added that Uruma had escorted the attackers to the police targets in Maungdaw, which was why he had been handed the death penalty. Win Naung added that another 13 men—all Muslims, like Uruma—are currently undergoing trial.

Sittwe police officer Yan Naing Lett is leading the investigation and serving as the plaintiff in the cases. He said that the offenders are charged under Section 302(1)(c) of Burma’s penal code. If convicted, the article indicates a punishment of a fine, a term of imprisonment of up to seven years, or, in the most severe of cases, the death penalty.

Yan Naing Lett could not be reached to provide specific information about the court hearing, or to confirm whether the defendant was allowed representation by a lawyer.

Former lawyer, U Tha Pwint, who is not working on the case, explained that existing laws require the accused to have a lawyer present, or trials are not supposed to proceed.

Death sentences, U Tha Pwint explained, are rare in Burma. According to a presentation to the Union Parliament in January by Gen Kyaw Kyaw Htun, no executions as the result of death penalty sentences have been carried out in Burma since 1988. Yet judges have reportedly sentenced more than 800 individuals to death during this time, but these sentences were commuted to life in prison by former President Thein Sein.

Those convicted can appeal to the Chief Justice of the Union within one week to commute the sentence to life imprisonment. If the plea is rejected, then the individual could implore President U Htin Kyaw to reduce the sentence.

Lawyer U Than Htun said that, when implemented, death sentences in Burma are carried out through hangings, and require a process of medical checks.

According to the preliminary report from the Vice President U Myint Swe-led Arakan State Investigation Commission, security forces detained around 500 individuals suspected of being involved in the Oct. 9 attacks. Currently, the authorities are prosecuting 28 cases and have released 10 people.

The others—numbering more than 450—are still in detainment in Buthidaung prison, according to Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur to Burma, who spoke on the issue in a press conference in January. She said that the majority of those detained had no legal representation, no understanding of their charges, and were unable to contact family members.