President’s Office Says It Had No Role in Release of Rohingya Massacre Soldiers

By The Irrawaddy 31 May 2019

YANGON—Seven soldiers jailed by the military for killing 10 Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017 were released under the military justice system and not by presidential pardon, a spokesman for the Myanmar President’s Office said Friday.

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, under a pardon authorized by the military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

At a press conference in Naypyitaw, President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said, “They have been released according to military justice,” when asked by The Irrawaddy whether the Army informed the President’s Office about the release in advance.

“It’s not by presidential pardon,” he said.

Along with the soldiers, three policemen and six villagers were also arrested.

U Zaw Htay said one of the police officers, Police Private Zwe Maung Maung, who received a three-year sentence for his involvement in the incident, was also released, after serving one year and seven months.

“He submitted an appeal and was released on May 8, one day after the Reuters journalists were set free,” he said, referring to two local journalists working for the news agency who were arrested for investigating the incident early last year. Both Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo walked free on a presidential pardon early this month after serving 16 months behind bars.

However, the spokesperson didn’t mention the fate of the other two policemen and villagers other than to say that “villager U Tun Aye is still serving his five-year prison sentence.”

Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that 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.

He added that given the soldiers’ dutifulness during their time in the Army, and in consideration of a petition filed on their behalf by a group of people including monks, the military chief reduced their prison sentence from 10 years to one year with hard labor in accordance with military justice.

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.”