Military Chief Pardoned Soldiers Involved in Rohingya Massacre

By Htet Naing Zaw 29 May 2019

NAYPYITAW—Seven soldiers jailed by the military for killing 10 Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017 were released as the result of a pardon from the military chief, according to a military spokesperson.

The 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.

However, they were released in November 2018, after serving less than one year, after a group of people including monks submitted a petition on their behalf to Myanmar military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

He explained that given the soldiers’ dutifulness during their time in the Army, and in consideration of the petition, the military chief reduced their prison sentence from 10 years to one year with hard labor in accordance with military justice.

“That’s why they were released in November, due to their petition. The military acted according to the laws,” the spokesperson said.

The military’s explanation came two days after the soldiers’ release was first reported by Reuters on Monday. At the time, the military said it couldn’t confirm the release.

On Wednesday, the brigadier general said the soldiers were found not to have had any intention to kill, but their actions were simply not in line with procedures while serving in a time of conflict. The Office of the Judge Advocate General submitted this finding to the military chief, he added.

“After that, the commander-in-chief acted according to the law based on the Office of the Judge Advocate General’s input in the case prosecuted in a military court,” he said.

The fates of three policemen and six villagers arrested along with the soldiers are unknown.

U Pe Than, a lawmaker from Rakhine State in the Lower House of the Union Parliament, said it’s permissible for the military to issue a pardon in a case prosecuted by a court martial.

“But, it’s unfair if they don’t release civilians involved who were following orders from the Army,” he said.

U Tun Kyi, a former political prisoner in Yangon, said the release shows the military is a privileged institution in the country.

“It’s totally unfair,” said U Tun Kyi, who is a Muslim.

The killings of the 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.

The Myanmar Army has come under international pressure for its actions against the Rohingya, including the killing of the 10. The military leadership was accused of crimes against humanity by a United Nations fact-finding mission in 2018. Both the Myanmar government and military rejected the accusation, saying solid evidence was lacking.

When asked if the release of the soldiers would fuel more international pressure, the military spokesperson told The Irrawaddy that the military expected it would.

“But we have just acted according to the law,” he said.

In Myanmar, the Constitution grants the military chief the final say in questions of military justice, stating that “the decision of the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services is final and conclusive.”

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