YANGON— Yangon’s Northern District Court on Friday charged four men with premeditated murder in connection with the January 2017 killing of prominent Muslim lawyer U Ko Ni.
If convicted, they face life sentences.
U Ko Ni, a constitutional lawyer and legal adviser to the ruling National League for Democracy, was gunned down outside Yangon International Airport on Jan. 29 last year.
Police have detained four people in connection with the crime: accused gunman Kyi Lin and three alleged co-conspirators Zeya Phyo, Aung Win Zaw and Aung Win Tun. The man they accuse of masterminding the murder, former Lieutenant-Colonel Aung Win Khaing, remains at large.;
After hearing more than 10 months of witness testimony, the district court indicted three of the detained suspects and Aung Win Khaing under the Penal Code’s Article 302 (1) (b). Aung Win Tun was indicted under the Penal Code’s Article 212, which prohibits harboring an offender. The court also ordered the confiscation of the fugitive Aung Win Khaing’s movable and immovable property under the Criminal Procedure’s Article 88.;
After the hearing, Aung Win Zaw and Zeya Phyo shouted that they were “innocent” and “not guilty” of U Ko Ni’s murder as they were led away by police.
“I am not guilty of anything,” shouted Zeya Phyo, a former captain with the Military Intelligence unit. “There is no evidence to prove that I am,” he yelled.
Zeya Phyo was accused by the prosecutor of giving financial support to the alleged conspirators to carry out the murder. His name was first revealed at a press conferencein February last year by the Home Affairs Ministry and police.
Daw Pa Pa Win, a defense lawyer for Zeya Phyo, told The Irrawaddy after the hearing that there is no evidence or witness testimony showing that her client financed the murder. She added that none of the 72 witnesses who testified said Zeya Phyo was involved in planning the murder.
However, “Since the court has indicted him, he must stand trial,” she said.
“While an indictment is not a sentence, [he] has to stand trial and is aggrieved by the court’s decision,” she added.
Daw Pa Pa Win said she would assert her client’s legal right to appeal to the divisional court.
U Kyaw Kyaw Htike, a defense lawyer for accused gunman Kyi Lin, told The Irrawaddy that he had no comment to make on behalf of his client, adding only that the public would be satisfied with the court’s decision and the indictment order.
“If I make a good case at the trial, [Kyi Lin] will be acquitted. If I don’t, he will get a life sentence—which you will all be satisfied with,” he said.
Kyi Lin and Aung Win Zaw were also indicted by the court under Article 19(c) and (f) of the 1878 Arms Act respectively for importing/exporting and possessing firearms.
U Nay La, a lawyer representing the victim’s family in court, told The Irrawaddy the court’s decisions were in accordance with the law, regardless of the accused’s denials.
“What U Ko Ni’s family wants is not revenge, but for the truth to be uncovered,” he said.
Tin Htet Paing is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Yangon. She previously worked at The Irrawaddy as a reporter for three years.