Police Investigate U Ko Ni Assassination Amid Condolences and Demands for Justice

By The Irrawaddy 30 January 2017

MANDALAY— Police searched Chanayethazan Township in Mandalay on Sunday for the home of a man suspected of shooting  Burma’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) legal advisor U Ko Ni earlier that day as leading figures at home and abroad expressed shock and sadness at the news and demanded justice.

Acting on information from suspect Kyi Lin—arrested after allegedly shooting U Ko Ni in the head at close range outside Yangon International Airport on Sunday afternoon—police gathered at an apartment suspected of being his home in the township’s 34th Street.

After initial confusion as the suspect provided no house number during questioning, the suspected apartment was found to be locked with no one inside.

“We are here on the ground to check the address, we still don’t know his house number. Even the quarter administrator said he doesn’t know him [Kyi Lin],” Mandalay Division Police Chief Han Tun told the media.

He added that the suspected gunman is from Kyaukme Township, Shan State and was in prison from 2003 to 2010 for smuggling ancient Buddha statues.

A crowd gathered on 34th Street with some shouting to “storm the apartment” and others urging burning down the houses of Chinese residents, although the suspect’s ethnicity is unconfirmed.

U Ko Ni, a Muslim, was a long-time advisor to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

He was an expert on Burma’s controversial 2008 Constitution and worked together with the party to amend the charter that is widely criticized as undemocratic.

The 65-year old lawyer was a strong opponent of the country’s “Race and Religion Protection” laws—the controversial legislation proposed by the Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha and approved by the previous U Thein Sein government.

U Win Htein—member of the NLD’s steering organ the Secretariat—described U Ko Ni as someone “irreplaceable” and called the assassination “horrible.”

“Although he was not among the party’s leadership, he was really good at giving legal critiques and suggestions to the party,” he told The Irrawaddy, “he worked behind the scenes to advise the party’s leadership.”

Patron of the National League for Democracy U Tin Oo expressed his condolences to family members of assassinated lawyer U Ko Ni at the family’s home in downtown Rangoon on Monday morning.

On Sunday the NLD released a statement condemning the killing as an act of “terrorism” and urging members not to react strongly to the assassination.

U Ko Ni’s daughter and grandson were present at the airport when the lawyer was assassinated. His funeral will be held on Monday afternoon.

Burma’s state-run daily The Mirror editorial hailed U Ko Ni as a “good citizen” who had been working for the national cause of democracy and justice.

“It is evident that the ones who killed him are those who want to damage the national cause that we have been working for,” the paper said on Monday.

In response to the lawyer’s killing, international groups also called on the government for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee—who met with U Ko Ni on her visit to the country this month—expressed her condolences via Twitter and wrote that “all responsible people must be brought to justice.”

Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Campaigns Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said U Ko Ni’s death will send shock waves across the human rights community in the country and beyond, and authorities must send a clear message that such violence will not be tolerated and will not go unpunished.

The International Crisis Group said in a statement that no stone must be left unturned in finding the truth about the incident and who may have been behind it.

“The killing also underlines the urgency of the Myanmar [Burma] government and society to come together to condemn all forms of hate speech, confront it wherever it occurs, and take resolute action against those responsible for disseminating it.”

Zarni Mann in Mandalay, Htet Naing Zaw in Naypyidaw, and Kyaw Phyo Tha in Rangoon contributed to this report.