YANGON — Amid mounting public criticism, the Union Attorney General’s Office on Monday annulled a Yangon Court’s decision to drop the investigation into the murder of Facebook comedian Aung Yell Htwe, saying the investigation would continue.
Three suspects in the fatal beating of Aung Yell Htwe were unconditionally released on July 25 as the Yangon Eastern District Court accepted his family’s appeal asking to settle the case.
Aung Yell Htwe, who became popular for the series of short comedy videos he posted to his Facebook account starting in 2016, died after being kicked and beaten by a group of men while attending a party last New Year’s Eve at The One Entertainment Park in Yangon.
Three suspects in the fatal beating — Than Htut Aung (a.k.a Thar Gyi), Pyae Phyo Aung (a.k.a Aung Lay) and Kyaw Zaw Han (a.k.a Kyaw Zaw) — surrendered to police in the presence of their parents soon after the incident.
The release of the murder suspects without any charges being filed raised public doubts about the fairness of the court’s handling of the case and about the rule of law in the country generally.
Netizens started a social media campaign titled “Failed Law” after the cover photo on a Facebook account with the name Than Htut Aung (the same as one of the released suspects) was changed to show a man with a masked face smiling mockingly.
“This is mocking Myanmar’s judiciary,” one person wrote, sharing screenshots of the changed cover photo.
Lawyers, lawmakers and activists also joined in the condemnation, claiming the release would encourage further killings and threaten public security.
Lawyer U Htay said he was shocked to hear that the court had dropped the investigation into the murder, saying it occurred in plain sight in a public place. He said it was especially disturbing given the high number of murders and other criminal cases in the country.
President U Win Myint, a former Lower House speaker who once worked as a barrister, also expressed concern about the case.
At a meeting with Yangon Region administrative, legislative and judicial officials at the Government Office on Sunday he emphasized the importance of the rule of law in a democratic system and the need for the judicial sector to be free from bias and corruption.
“The president said he had learned the puzzling and deeply disturbing news in regards to the judicial sector,” said Ko Wai Phyo Han, a Yangon regional lawmaker who attended the meeting.
MPs attending the meeting said the president said that settling murder cases was important for the rule of law, and pointed out that the state has the authority to continue the investigation in such cases.
U Win Myint also instructed judicial officials not to delay in high-profile cases and to search for the truth.
The day after the meeting, President’s Office Spokesperson U Zaw Htay said the President and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had questioned officials involved in the Aung Yell Htwe case regarding the decision to drop it.
He said it had been learned that the Yangon Region attorney general had approved the request to drop the case citing a lack of evidence implicating the accused.
In light of the state leaders’ intervention, and with public criticism mounting over the dropping of the case, the Union Attorney General’s Office ordered the region attorney general to annul the court’s decision and continue the investigation at the Yangon Regional Court.
U Zaw Htay said the remaining witnesses in the case will testify after the Regional Court formally reopens the case.
Responding to reports that the suspects left the country soon after their release, the spokesman said the government would work with international police forces to return the three.
Lawyer U Htay added that approval from the court and from the the attorney general’s office were required to continue investigating the case under the Anti-corruption Law.