RANGOON — Two soldiers on trial for the killing of journalist Par Gyi while in Burma Army custody last year have been acquitted by a military tribunal, according to the Myanmar Human Rights Commission (MHRC), as a separate inquiry into the incident by a civilian court continued this week.
Lance Corporal Kyaw Kyaw Aung and Private Naing Lin Tun from the No. 210 Light Infantry Division were charged with culpable homicide under Article 71 of the Defense Services Act and the Penal Code’s Article 304, according to a May 8 statement from the commission, with the court deciding to acquit the defendants in a ruling approved by the head of the Burma Army’s Southeast Command.
Par Gyi, also known as Aung Kyaw Naing, was apprehended in Mon State by the Burma Army last September, and remained missing for several weeks as his wife Ma Thandar, an award-winning human rights activist, repeatedly called for a search.
Weeks later, the military informed a member of the Myanmar Press Council that he had been killed after attempting to seize a weapon and flee from custody. The council was told that he had been buried shortly after his death. The military did not identify Par Gyi as a journalist, describing him instead as a member of a Karen rebel armed group that the government was exchanging hostilities with at the time.
MHRC began an investigation in October at the order of President Thein Sein and Par Gyi’s body was exhumed from a shallow grave on Nov. 5, revealing possible signs of torture.
The commission’s report, released in early December, did not address the torture claims and was rejected by the victim’s family and their lawyer. It did, however, recommend that the case be brought before a civilian court.
The MHRC’s suggestion was apparently rejected by the military, which said a court martial should handle the case as laid out in Article 72 of the Defense Services Act, which applies to acts committed by soldiers against civilians in an active duty context.
The family’s lawyer Robert San Aung told The Irrawaddy that the military tribunal’s ruling would not affect separate ongoing proceedings at a civilian court in Mon State.
“We don’t know about the proceedings held at the military court and they did not even inform the suffering person, Ma Thandar,” Robert San Aung said.
The civilian trial’s fourth hearing was held on Monday, with the court taking testimony from Ma Thandar.
“Ma Thandar was questioned [about events] from the time of her husband’s disappearance; how she searched [for him]; difficulties she faced when she reported to the police station, military and border affairs minister; and about the injuries that were found on her husband’s body,” said Robert San Aung.
Civil court proceedings began in February, but Par Gyi’s widow and the family’s lawyer were not made aware of the trial until a third hearing was held in late April.
There are no defendants in the ongoing trial, which is due to resume on May 25.