A Burmese court has sentenced two men to death for involvement in the murder of Muslim lawyer, Ko Ni, who was an adviser to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
She pointedly failed to attend Ko Ni’s funeral amid rising ethnic animosity towards the Muslim minority in Myanmar.
He campaigned for reforms to the 2008 military-drafted constitution that enshrines the generals’ dominance over the political system.
Ko Ni was also an author of the strategy that allowed Suu Kyi to bypass clause 59(f) of the constitution that prevented her from becoming president and created the position of state counsellor. It is a similar role to a prime minister, although she is excluded from home affairs, defence and border issues by the military’s constitution.
The 63-year-old was shot dead outside Yangon’s airport in January 2017. Two other men were also jailed for their involvement.
The lawyer endorsed a decision by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy not to run any Muslim candidates in the 2015 general election. The subsequent parliament was the first to have no Muslim MPs since independence from Britain in 1948.
Yangon’s northern district court sentenced gunman Kyi Lin and the former army lieutenant accused of hiring him, Aung Win Zaw, to death, according to Judge Ye Lwin.
No death sentences have been carried out in Myanmar since 1988.
There are more than 100 convicts awaiting execution in Myanmar.
After the verdict was announced, one of the convicted men shouted: “They don’t do anything to those in Nay Pyi Taw. But I have been handed a prison sentence.”
Kyi Lin was tackled by taxi drivers after shooting Ko Ni. He also killed one of his pursuers, driver Nay Win.
One alleged plotter, former lieutenant colonel Aung Win Khine, who is a brother of the assassin and was accused of masterminding the murder, has never been caught.
He fled initially to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, which has Myanmar’s most extensive surveillance network.
Prosecution lawyer Nay La told the Irrawaddy last month that justice would only be served when all the masterminds were identified.
“The mastermind must be unveiled sometime in the future for the sake of justice,” he was quoted saying.
A former captain with military intelligence, Zeyar Phyo, was sentenced to five years in prison for helping Aung Win Khine destroy evidence, the judge told the media.
Another brother, Aung Win Tun, was jailed for three years for harbouring an offender.
Supporters of Ko Ni condemned what they called the light sentences for the co-conspirators.
Suu Kyi marked the second anniversary of the murder in January by saying it was a “big loss for Myanmar”.
Yangon’s Muslim community looks increasingly exposed. Picture credit: Asean Economist