Timeline: Irregularities & Significant Events from Toddler Rape Case in Myanmar
By San Yamin Aung 19 February 2020
YANGON— Justice has yet to be served in the high-profile toddler rape case in Naypyitaw. The case of a toddler, then just 2 years and 11 months old, who was raped at a private nursery school nine months ago has sparked national outrage, with thousands taking to the streets to demand the truth. A spokesperson for the President’s Office said state leaders are monitoring the case closely and will ensure accountability and responsibility if the police are found to have mishandled the investigation. But following the months-long inquiry, the court proceedings for the case ended on Tuesday without finding the rapist.
Below is a timeline of the significant events in the case, including some irregularities that have occurred since the case was first reported.
May 16—The girl attends the Wisdom Hill nursery school in the administrative capital, Naypyitaw, in the morning and returns home that evening with injuries that doctors at a public hospital tell her parents are consistent with rape.
A medical exam finds semen on the girl’s body. She is started on a 28-day course of post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent potential HIV infection.
May 17—The mother files a complaint with police, but police decline to accept the case right away and tell her to come back the next morning.
May 30—Aung Kyaw Myo (a.k.a. Aung Gyi), 29, on his first day on the job as the driver of nursery school supervisor Daw Ohnmar Hlaing, is arrested on suspicion of raping the girl.
June—The case comes to the public’s attention after a Facebook user wrote a post condemning police for failing to take action. As social media influencers call for justice, public awareness builds. The young victim is given the pseudonym “Victoria” in social media campaigns calling for justice for her, prompting large numbers of Facebook users to change their profile pictures to a “Justice for Victoria” image. Campaigners write that Victoria told her parent that two teenage brothers sexually assaulted her and that a teacher at the nursery school was aware of it.
June 1—The Wisdom Hill School holds a press conference in Naypyitaw amid parents’ mounting concerns for the safety of their children after details of the case go viral. The school authorities insist that many allegations spread on social media about the case are not true. The vice principal of the school, Daw Khaing Thazin, says teachers and the school can guarantee that the incident didn’t happen inside the school. Around 30 parents attend the event and many are unsatisfied with the answers given by the school authorities.
June 3—Local police transfer full control of the investigation to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
June 10—Amid public frustration over the police handling of the case, the “Justice for Victoria” campaign is launched with its own Facebook page.
June 13—The Wisdom Hill school cautions in statements published in newspapers against the spread of rumors and speculation amid an ongoing police investigation. It also threatens to file libel lawsuits against anyone slandering its reputation.
June 24—A court releases detained driver Aung Gyi after a CID interrogation fails to find strong evidence against him. A test shows that DNA evidence obtained at the crime scene does not match him.
June 30—Victoria’s father gives a media interview about the case for the first time. He says the family will try every legal means of getting justice for their daughter but says they are frustrated that a culprit has still not been identified, given the small place and the narrow window of time in which the girl was without supervision.
June 30—President Office’s spokesperson U Zaw Htay writes on his Facebook page that from the time the incident was first reported, state leaders have verbally instructed police to investigate the case until the truth comes out and that queries are being made into the delay in prosecuting the case.
Union Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement U Win Myat Aye writes on his page that his ministry will work together with Victoria’s family in seeking the truth in the case.
July 1—The government shuts down 15 nursery schools in Naypyitaw for operating without proper licenses, including Wisdom Hill.
July 4—Police rearrest and prosecute driver Aung Gyi for the rape case at a district court in Naypyitaw. The move follows his release in late June. The suspect is charged under Article 376 of the Penal Code. If found guilty, Aung Gyi faces a maximum life sentence.
Within hours of his being charged, masses of Facebook users react angrily, expressing serious doubt as to the police’s conclusion, as the victim had reportedly said she was assaulted by two teenage brothers. Aung Gyi’s parents give media interviews insisting on their son’s innocence after the re-arrest.
July 5—Myanmar’s deputy police chief Major-General Aung Naing Thu stands by the police decision to rearrest Aung Gyi at a press briefing in Naypyitaw. He tells the media that they charged Aung Gyi based on the relevant evidence, adding that a test had found semen on his underwear.
When reporters point out that Aung Gyi was released as a test showed that DNA evidence obtained at the scene did not match him, the deputy police chief replies that the DNA evidence is not reliable, as Victoria’s mother washed her daughter’s clothes on the day of the rape, before becoming aware of what had happened to the girl. He says the sons of the school supervisor are cleared of suspicion as a test showed that DNA evidence didn’t match the pair.
The deputy chief’s comments during the press briefing go viral on social media and draw widespread criticism for inconsistencies and contradictions.
July 6—Thousands of protesters wearing white T-shirts, some printed with the words “Justice for Victoria”, march to the CID office in Yangon to show their dissatisfaction with the police handling of the case. The protesters, estimated to number as many as 6,000, demand speedy and transparent justice in the case. Similar campaign rallies are also held in other big cities such as Mandalay, Taunggyi, Naypyitaw and Pyay.
July 6—Government official Dr. Win Ko Ko Thein—a deputy director of Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports—who has been campaigning for justice in the case, lists inconsistencies and irregularities in the case on his Facebook account and urges the public to demand that the Anti-Corruption Commission conduct an investigation.
He works closely with the victim’s family to seek the truth, posting updates about the ongoing case online.
July 7—Wisdom Hill school releases a statement pledging to cooperate to expose the truth in the case. It also apologizes for its lack of cooperation with the victim’s family previously.
July 9—CCTV footage from outside the school obtained by the BBC shows Aung Gyi sitting down throughout the period he was waiting before leaving the school. The report fuels netizens’ suspicions that Aung Gyi has been framed.
July 10—Wisdom Hill school supervisor Daw Ohnmar Hlaing appears in a media interview for the first time to defend her two sons against suspicions raised against them.
July 10—Police detain Dr. Win Ko Ko Thein under Article 34(d) of the Electronic Transactions Law for his critical comments of the investigation of the case on his Facebook page “Thetka Moe Nyo”. The comments are deemed to be defamatory to the police. After being interrogated, the campaigner is released on bail of 10 million kyats (US$6,631).
July 10—On its official Facebook page, the Myanmar Police Force announces that the collection of cash by well-wishers to help Victoria is illegal.
“In the first stage of the investigation into the illegal solicitation of cash into a bank account opened on the pretext of helping Victoria, police will take action in line with the law once the Thetka Moe Nyo account holder is identified, and will make further investigations into those associated with the case,” the police announcement reads.
Earlier, the Victoria’s Finance Team explained the account was opened so that money contributed can be used for legal expenses, to provide financial assistance to the victim’s parents during the trial, and for the long-term support of the victim.
July 11—AYA Bank suspends an account opened by well-wishers to collect cash to help the victim, on the orders of the Anti-Money Laundering Central Board.
July 12—Amid public anger, the bank releases a statement apologizing to the public for the temporary suspension of the account and says the account has been reopened. The bank issues a letter of apology to U Win Ko Ko Thein, who opened the account.
July 15—A Naypyitaw court begins hearing the Victoria case. About 100 campaigners show up at the first court hearing.
July 24—Victoria’s mother asks the court to treat Ma Hnin Nu, the victim’s classroom teacher, as a suspect and not just an important witness, claiming the teacher gave inconsistent accounts of what happened. The request is denied.
“The victim said that teacher Hnin Nu knew about [the sexual assault], that she scolded Ko Ko [a general term used by girls to address older boys] and that she helped wash [the victim’s genitals]. To be exact, the victim testified this four times, so the aggrieved party asked the court to treat Hnin Nu as a suspect, because she concealed information,” prosecutor Daw Ywet Nu Aung told The Irrawaddy. Teacher Hnin Nu denies having any knowledge about the rape in media interviews.
July 27—Threats are made against the victim’s family on social media accounts “Moe Ma Kha” and “Ka Ma Moe”, warning that photos of Victoria will be published. Campaigners respond that they are prepared to sue.
Aug. 14—Victoria’s father submits a video recording to the court in which the victim says she was sexually assaulted by two teenage brothers. In the video, the victim’s uncle shows her photos of Ma Hnin Nu, a teacher and prosecution witness alleged to have provided cover to the rapist; Ko Ko and Nyi Nyi, the two teenage sons of the school supervisor; and Aung Gyi. Asked who assaulted her, the girl, now 3, points to the photos of Ko Ko and Nyi Nyi with a pencil and says they committed the crime.
Aung Gyi’s lawyer Daw Su Darli Aung says: “In the video file, she said she wanted to kill [the two]. She indicated [the photos] with a pencil and asked her father to kick [the photos of the two].” The court accepts the video as evidence.
At the court hearing, the victim’s father also testifies that he has been told by the CID that semen had been found in his daughter’s vagina and his daughter would have suffered more serious injuries if raped by a man of Aung Gyi’s age. The father also says he did not know that Daw Ohmar Hlaing had two sons, though a CID inspector had previously testified that investigators told the father that the teacher had two sons—one in the 10th and one in the eighth grade—who often visit her at work.
Aug. 31—School supervisor Daw Ohnmar Hlaing files a lawsuit against Daw Su Darli Aung, who is representing Aung Gyi [her former driver], under the Child Rights Law and the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens in response to her interview with the media about the court hearing on Aug. 14. The later charge is not approved by the advocate’s office.
Sept. 11—The court hears from Victoria. Victoria identifies two brothers as the perpetrators of the sexual assault. She also says the younger one pounded her chest and the bigger brother pinched her vagina, the victim’s lawyer Daw Ywet Nu Aung said after the trial hearing. Additionally, the girl says she does not know Aung Gyi when shown a photo of him.
“Like she did before, she picked the photos of [the brothers] and said they pinched her vagina,” Daw Ywet Nu Aung says, referring to a video file that was submitted to the court as evidence on Aug. 14.
Sept. 18—Myanmar’s deputy police chief, Police Major General Aung Naing Thu, who controversially accused driver Aung Gyi of being the offender in the case, is widely reported to have resigned his post. The news comes after Victoria said two teenage brothers and not the accused driver were the perpetrators of the sexual assault in court testimony.
Police Maj-Gen Aung Naing Thu denies the reports in a text message sent from his number to The Irrawaddy.
Sept. 21—Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Commission says it has received a request from the aggrieved family two weeks after the incident to investigate whether corruption is involved in the investigation of the case. As the case is still before the court, the commission said it is monitoring the case.
Sept. 24—Naypyitaw’s Dekkhina Thiri District Court agrees to consider a bail request from Aung Gyi. His lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw says the witness testimony is “sufficient” to prove his client’s innocence.
Sept. 25—Aung Gyi’s lawyer Daw Su Darli Aung exposes to the media that she has been shadowed for several weeks, since the second hearing in the ongoing trial. The lawyer says she saw two motorbikes tailing her after the second court hearing and that two days later a car followed her.
Daw Su Darli Aung also says she has been verbally threatened outside the court and subject to pressure, but declines to offer details.
Sept. 25—The Pobbathiri Township Court accepts the lawsuit filed against the accused driver Aung Gyi’s lawyer Daw Su Darli Aung and grants her bail of 10 million kyats (US$6,534).
Over 30 lawyers are present at the court to show their support for Daw Su Darli Aung. The lawyer tells reporters she will face the lawsuit and continue to defend Aung Gyi. Daw Su Darli Aung faces a sentence of four months to one year in prison if convicted.
Sept. 26—The school’s supervisor Daw Ohnmar Hlaing files another lawsuit against the victim’s father, uncle, aunt and their lawyer Daw Ywat Nu Aung; driver Ko Aung Gyi’s lawyer; U Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer for the detained suspect; and Dr. Win Ko Ko Thein (a.k.a Thetka Moe Nyo), who was working closely with the victim’s family in seeking justice, under the Child Rights Law’s Article 101 a (2).
She claims Victoria’s family submitted an “illegal” video, showing the victim pointing to pictures of her two sons using their nicknames, to the court (evidence that the court accepted). She adds that by repeating the allegations against her two sons to the media in interviews, the lawyers hurt her two sons’ dignity, and humiliated and traumatized them. The charges carry a prison sentence of four months to one year plus fines.
Sept. 28—Six lawyers’ networks and associations release a joint statement in response to the lawsuits filed by school supervisor Daw Ohnmar Hlaing against defendant and plaintiff lawyers in the Victoria case under the Child Rights Law. The groups say in the statement that the cases are a threat to all lawyers in the country who represent their clients in the courts. They say they will stand up for the sued lawyers in the Victoria case, who are simply working to expose the truth in the court and informed the public of that.
Oct. 9—The court hears from Police Lieutenant Yan Naung Soe, the husband of the school’s supervisor, and two drivers employed by Wisdom Hill. The police testimony contradicts Aung Gyi’s statement.
Dec. 18—Naypyitaw’s Dekkhina Thiri District Court finally discharge the accused driver who faces rape charges, Aung Gyi, or Aung Kyaw Myo, for lack of evidence. It is the second time he was released by the court on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
The Dekkhina Thiri Court also finds that the hard drive of a CCTV system belonging to the nursery school at the center of the case had been tampered with as officials tried to retrieve a missing file containing footage from the day of the alleged crime. Aung Gyi’s lawyer says the tampering was an effort to hide the truth.
Dec. 19—Myanmar police say at a press conference that the court’s release of Aung Gyi was premature, as the investigation remains incomplete. Police say they stand by their allegations against him. The court heard from 19 witnesses and not one, including the victim and teachers at the nursery school, ever implicated the driver in the case.
At the press conference, police also revealed the identities of the girl and her parents as they live-streamed the event on the police Facebook page. The public reacted in shock as the move violated the confidentiality that news media and others have kept by giving the young victim the pseudonym “Victoria.” Police also posted the personal information of the victim and her parents online, though it was later taken down following harsh criticisms from the public. Rights activists have pointed out that the police violated the Child Rights Law 2019, which prohibits the identification or depiction of a minor involved in legal cases.
Jan. 14, 2020—The Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar prepares to sue police officers for revealing the identities of the toddler and her relatives and seeks approval from the President’s Office. According to Article 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, it is necessary to seek presidential approval to file a lawsuit against civil servants.
Feb. 18, 2020—Mandalay Region’s Advocate General Office rejected an appeal by police and the Dekkhina Thiri District Advocate General Office to review the release of Aung Gyi, saying the court’s decision to release Aung Gyi was fair. According to the victim’s lawyer, her parents don’t wish to appeal Aung Gyi’s release. With the rejection of the appeal, the court procedures against the suspect have officially ended but if any new, strong evidence against him appears, he can be charged again.
The Irrawaddy’s Naypyitaw bureau contributed reporting to this story.