Slain journalist’s wife sets deadline for government action

The widow of a journalist killed while in army custody has called for legal action to be taken against those involved in the death of her husband, a freelance journalist. Officials from the government, the police force and the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, however, appear unable to agree on who is responsible for making a decision on whether to press charges over the death of Ko Par Gyi in October.

By Lun Min Mang   |   Monday, 09 February 2015

His widow, Daw Thandar, has accused the government of burying the case following a human rights commission investigation. She said she will give the Ministry of Home Affairs 60 days to bring charges to court or she will seek legal advice in an effort to initiate action herself.

“On January 31 I asked the ministry to bring the case of my husband’s death to court within 60 days,” she said. “If nothing happens, I shall take the next step toward bringing the case to court myself.”

Ko Par Gyi died while in military custody in Kyaikmayaw, Mon State, on October 4, 2014. The Tatmadaw released details of his death 19 days later, after Daw Thandar told police her husband was missing. The military statement said Ko Par Gyi had been shot while trying to escape.

The killing provoked widespread condemnation both inside Myanmar and abroad, and in response President U Thein Sein ordered the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to investigate.

Ko Par Gyi’s body was exhumed in November for examination, and the commission sent a team to the scene of his death to interview 47 witnesses, including military personnel, local residents, a state minister, a monk and reporters.

On December 1, the commission issued its report to the president, recommending that a case be brought against unspecified individuals and heard in a civilian court.

However, police in Kyaikmayaw said last week the case was in the hands of “higher authorities” and they were unaware of its status.

U Zaw Htay, a director in the President’s Office, directed enquiries on the status of the case to the human rights commission.

The commission’s deputy leader, U Sit Myaing, said the body was no longer involved in the case as it has already submitted its final report to the president.

Daw Thandar said the government’s failure to respond transparently to her husband’s death was “completely wrong”.

“I filed the complaint so long ago and there has been no action. There’s definitely something not right with the way they are handling it,” she said. “I have heard nothing at all since the commission submitted its report to the president.”

Daw Thandar said she had also asked the state health authorities to release the post-mortem results of tests conducted on her husband’s body.

Last month, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights Yanghee Lee also spoke out publicly about Ko Par Gyi’s death, describing it as “an extreme example” of the “regular intimidation and harassment” Myanmar journalists face.

“I call on the government to initiate criminal proceedings as a matter of priority in an open and transparent manner,” she said at a press conference on January 16, at the end of a 10-day visit to Myanmar.

Lawyer U Kyaw Win said it would be difficult for Daw Thandar to use the legal system to force the government to proceed with charges against her husband’s killers.

“There is no statute of limitations but it is up to the government whether to file any charges,” he said.