YANGON—The Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar (ILAM) has denounced a Yangon court’s “light” treatment of a former military intelligence captain who had been accused of conspiring to kill prominent lawyer U Ko Ni, only to be sentenced on a lesser charge at the last minute.
Yangon Northern District Court on Friday sentenced Zeya Phyo to five years in prison with hard labor for destroying evidence in the case. Gunman Kyi Lin and conspirator Aung Win Zaw were sentenced to death for the lawyer’s 2017 killing. Kyi Lin also received an additional 20-year prison term for killing taxi driver U Ne Win as he tried to apprehend the shooter. Aung Win Tun was given a three-year prison term for harboring one of the men.
The association said it would submit a legal report on the verdict, including its recommendations, to the President, State Counselor and parliamentary speakers in the coming weeks.
The alleged mastermind of the killing, former Lieutenant-Colonel Aung Win Khaing, remains at large after evading authorities. His last known whereabouts were in Naypyitaw.
In a statement released on Saturday, ILAM welcomed the death sentences handed to Kyi Lin and Aung Win Zaw. But the lawyers’ group said a mere five-year sentence for someone involved in a “coordinated crime” that shocked and frightened the nation was “too light” in the public’s view.
Zeya Phyo initially faced charges of premeditated murder and of aiding and abetting an offender by giving financial support to the conspirators to carry out the murder. He was first identified in connection with the case at a press conference given by the Home Affairs Ministry and police in February 2017.
Myanmar Police Chief Major-General Zaw Win said at the press conference that Aung Win Khaing asked Zeya Phyo for financial assistance to carry out the murder. Zeya Phyo handed over 100 million kyats to Aung Win Khaing in August 2016, Maj-Gen. Zaw Win said at the time.
In Friday’s verdict, however, he was acquitted of the previous charges and sentenced for a different violation under the Penal Code’s Article 201.
Lawyer U Thein Than Oo, a senior member of ILAM, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the light sentence given to Zeya Phyo, who was identified as a main conspirator by police, is “totally unacceptable and not justified.”
The 65-year-old lawyer said never in his career had he heard of a court reaching a decision that contradicted the findings of the police chief and the Home Affairs Ministry.
Even Article 201, he said, allows for a maximum penalty of seven years in prison, but the court only sentenced him to five.
ILAM also called for a separate investigation of U Ko Ni’s killing under the Counter-Terrorism Law, saying the crime met the definition of terrorism under articles 13, 15, 16 and 17 of the law.
It said the four men should be investigated under the law for assassinating the lawyer in broad daylight outside Yangon International Airport on Jan. 29, 2017.
The plaintiff’s lawyers also told the media after the verdict that they were not satisfied with the court’s decision regarding Zeya Phyo and would appeal to a higher court.