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Gunman gets death penalty in murder of Myanmar lawyer

Two men have been sentenced to death in Myanmar for the murder of a Muslim lawyer, Ko Ni, in broad daylight at Yangon International Airport in January 2017. Nick Beake reports from Yangon.

It’s hard to imagine a more chilling photograph.
The assassin has crept up on his elderly target, who’s holding his grandson in his arms. The gun’s practically touching the head of the unsuspecting victim.
What happens in the next second – captured on camera – will rob a family of a grandfather and Myanmar of arguably its best hope of a more democratic future.
The murder of prominent lawyer Ko Ni shocked Myanmar to its core.
For many, it was a brutal and brazen reminder that although this country may have a civilian government, the Burmese military still calls the shots.
Why was Ko Ni assassinated?Kyi Lin, who fired the gun, and Aung Win Zaw, who helped in the murder, have now been sentenced to death in a much-criticised trial. Two others have been found guilty.
It’s unlikely the men will actually be executed as it’s believed Myanmar has not enforced the death penalty for more than 30 years.
And there is an overriding feeling justice has not been served.
As the legal adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, Ko Ni had been looking for ways to change Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 constitution. It had made him powerful enemies.
“For me, he is a hero,” Ko Ni’s eldest daughter tells me in the family flat in downtown Yangon. Yin Nwe Khaing, a doctor, sits next to her mother who gently wipes away her tears.
“He sacrificed everything for his belief and for the truth. He is a very great man and a brave man. We miss him so much.”
Democracy misses him too. Under the constitution which Ko Ni was trying to replace, the military automatically takes a quarter of seats in both the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Any change to the constitution requires approval from more than three quarters of MPs, so the military holds a veto.
It also enjoys control of three key security-linked ministries under the current arrangement.
The 2008 constitution also barred Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming Myanmar’s President, because it stipulates no one with foreign children can take the job.
Suu Kyi was ruled out as she had two sons with her late British husband.
It was Ko Ni who was credited with creating the role of state counsellor – to be above the president – which now allows Su Kyi to lead the civilian government. It was a move which blindsided and infuriated the generals.
The murder of Ko Ni has regularly been held up as the most graphic illustration of the way the military still has Myanmar by the throat – despite having relinquished political power after five decades of military dictatorship.
But the army has always denied being behind the killing.
This despite the alleged mastermind being a retired Lieutenant Colonel. Interpol has issued a “red notice” for Aung Win Khine’s arrest but he has seemingly slipped away, or is being protected.
Three of the men who appeared in the dock were once military men. It was only the hired gunman, an antique smuggler from Mandalay called Kyi Lin, who had no apparent army links.
On the second anniversary of Ko Ni’s death, friends, family and foreign diplomats packed into the upper floor of a restaurant in Yangon to celebrate his life and demand justice.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who had stayed away from the funeral in 2017, and had said little about the assassination of her friend, appeared in a video message calling for the truth to be exposed.
The American Ambassador Scot Marciel was among those in the audience.
Earlier I’d asked him if he thought the murder did indeed encapsulate the way the army is still in control.
“The military remains very powerful and a culture of impunity remains very strong and that is very concerning,” he said. “Obviously it needs to be overcome if Myanmar is to succeed.”
I asked what hope there is for justice from this court case.
“It’s really a test of the Myanmar system, of whether after years of human rights violations with impunity, there can be justice done.”
The verdicts have now been delivered and – despite the four convictions – few believe this is what justice looks like.
A country where the chief architect of a fairer future is cut down, and the system he was fighting to change remains perfectly intact.



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