Myanmar Supreme Court Declines to Increase Sentences of Pair Jailed in Murder of NLD Legal Adviser

By San Yamin Aung 10 January 2020

YANGON—Myanmar’s Supreme Court on Friday dismissed prosecutors’ appeal to increase the prison sentences of two of four men convicted in connection with the 2017 murder of U Ko Ni, a prominent lawyer and legal adviser to the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

The court also upheld the death penalties handed out to the other two men convicted in the case.

Prosecutors appealed to the highest court in the Union, claiming that Zeya Phyo and Aung Win Tun did not receive fitting punishments for their roles in the assassination. An earlier appeal to the Yangon Region High Court was rejected.

U Ko Ni was shot dead in broad daylight on Jan. 29, 2017 outside Yangon International Airport. He was returning from Indonesia with a Myanmar government delegation that had just completed a weeklong study tour on democratic transition and peaceful coexistence.

Yangon’s Northern District Court delivered the long-awaited verdict on Feb. 15 last year following a trial that included more than 100 court hearings.

Hired gunman Kyi Lin and main conspirator Aung Win Zaw, a former lieutenant, were sentenced to death for the lawyer’s killing. Kyi Lin also received an additional 20-year prison term for killing taxi driver U Ne Win as he tried to apprehend the shooter.

Aung Win Tun was given a three-year prison term for harboring one of the men. Zeya Phyo, a former captain with the Military Intelligence unit, was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor for destroying evidence in the case.

The alleged mastermind of the killing, former Lieutenant-Colonel Aung Win Khaing, remains at large after evading authorities. His last known whereabouts were in Naypyitaw.

The sentences handed to Zeya Phyo and Aung Win Tun were widely denounced as light treatment, given that the men were convicted of involvement in a coordinated crime that shocked and frightened the nation.

Zeya Phyo initially faced charges of premeditated murder and aiding and abetting an offender by giving financial support to the conspirators to carry out the murder. But at the last minute of his trial, he was acquitted of those charges and sentenced for a different violation under the Penal Code’s Article 201.

Article 201 carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. In Aung Win Tun’s case, the offense of harboring a criminal carries a maximum five-year sentence.

The prosecution lawyers told reporters on Friday that they would make a special appeal to have the sentences reconsidered by two Supreme Court justices. The rejected appeal was decided by one justice.

Kyi Lin and Aung Win Zaw, both sentenced to death, appealed their sentences directly to the Supreme Court.

On Friday, the Supreme Court also rejected their appeals and let their sentences stand.

Many have speculated that U Ko Ni was targeted because of his strong criticism of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution. The constitutional expert and legal adviser to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) had long advocated for constitutional reforms to reduce the military’s dominant political role. He is also believed to have played a key role in advising the NLD to create the position of State Counselor for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi after the party’s landslide victory in the 2015 elections.

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