Probe Into Slain Journalist’s Death Ongoing

By Yen Saning 10 November 2014

RANGOON — An investigation into the killing of journalist Aung Kyaw Naing while in military custody will continue this week, with the findings to be submitted to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) after the inquiry is deemed complete, according to a commission member.

The MNHRC’s secretary, Sitt Myaing, said a final date by which to report the investigation’s findings had not been set.

“There are things we have yet to investigate. We have to go to Moulmein [in Mon State] again and investigate. We’ve already asked for the autopsy results,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

“We will not notify the family of the results [in advance], but we will release them publicly and report to the president. This is our regular procedure.”

Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, was killed while in Burma Army custody last month. He had been reporting on clashes between government troops and ethnic Karen rebels in Mon State when he was detained. Nearly three weeks after he was killed, the military on Oct. 23 said he was shot dead after attempting to seize a weapon off a soldier and flee custody.

Ma Thandar, the widow of Aung Kyaw Naing, told The Irrawaddy that she had filed a “fatal incident” case with the court in Kyaikmayaw, Mon State. Based on the court’s acceptance of the case, she said she plans to press more charges.

Her lawyer, Robert San Aung, declined to disclose the legal details relating to the case.

Ma Thandar said she had not yet been contacted by the MNHRC, and had not even received an official notification that the commission had undertaken an inquiry.

The MNHRC did, however, threaten a witness in the case with legal action if he failed to appear before the human rights body to answer questions, according to Ma Thandar. The witness is a journalist who was one of three people responsible for filing a missing persons report with authorities last month after Aung Kyaw Naing disappeared.

“They [MNHRC] threatened that the witness would be charged under a certain article if he didn’t come to meet them,” Ma Thandar said.

“This kind of language from the HRC is very alarming. With ‘human rights’ in its name, the commission must be unbiased and take the right stance,” she said. “I am surprised to hear such words from the HRC.”

The widow, who is also a prominent women’s rights activist, said there has been no offer for an independent investigation even though she has called for one.

“It’s impossible for me, a widow, to form such an inquiry. It can only be possible if I have a political organization as support.”

The window of opportunity for such an independent probe would appear to have closed, however, with the burial of Aung Kyaw Naing on Friday.

The forensics team has not released any documents related to the investigation, but last week did tell the slain journalist’s family that it found five gunshot wounds on his body.

Ma Thandar said that what she saw of her late husband’s exhumed corpse called into question the military’s narrative of events leading to his death.

“The close gunshot [wound] to the chin doesn’t look like the shot a person could get while seizing a gun and running,” she said.

The commission has not had a stellar track record since it was set up by the government of President Thein Sein in 2011. In September, the MNHRC was blasted by a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, which said the commission had failed to successfully investigate “any case submitted to it” since it was formed. The groups went on to criticize the commission as lacking independence, with its funding and staff members beholden to the President’s Office.

Meanwhile, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday sent a letter to the American President Barack Obama ahead of his visit to Burma this week, urging him “to impress upon Burmese President Thein Sein that future US engagement will be predicated on a renewed and genuine commitment to press freedom.”

“As Thein Sein’s government now backtracks on those commitments, we urge your government to consider reinstating economic and financial sanctions and freezing bilateral commercial, diplomatic and strategic initiatives, including military-to-military exchanges,” the letter read. “We urge you to use US influence to see that justice is served for slain journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, all jailed journalists are released unconditionally, and sweeping legal reforms that protect the press are implemented.”