Par Gyi, a Burmese journalist who went missing in Mon State one month ago while covering the armed conflict between government forces and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) has been killed by the Burmese army, according to a report obtained by DVB that was allegedly written by the Burmese military.
The report documents the series of events surrounding the journalist’s death and is dated 23 October, but it does not contain a letter-head or the name of the report’s author. The report says the missing journalist, whose real name is Aung Naing, was actually a captain responsible for “coordinating information” for a unit of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization (KKO), the political wing of the DKBA.
According to the report, Aung Naing’s KKO unit had been cooperating with another KKO unit which had detained and stolen weapons from Burmese police officers in Mon State’s Kyeikmayaw Town on 26 October. After the incident, the report says a combined force of police officers and soldiers from Burma’s 204th Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) was organized to search for the KKO members.
The report then says the government posse eventually found Aung Naing on a boat while inspecting river jetties in Kyeikmayaw Town on 30 September. Aung Naing was allegedly all wet and muddy when he was found and subsequently detained by the Burmese army’s 208th LIB, which reportedly “investigated” Aung Naing and discovered that he was working for the KKO.
DVB reported this week that Aung Naing’s wife, Ma Thandar, held a press conference on 21 October calling on President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to help bring her husband home. Ma Thandar began searching for her husband in late September as soon as he went missing though, and the military “report” says she eventually went to the 208th LIB base near Kyeikmayaw to find her husband.
Ma Thandar’s case was then relayed to the Regional Military Command, according to the report, which then “inquired with units under its supervision” and discovered that Aung Naing had already been killed during an apparent escape attempt. The report states as follows:
“Aung Naing, under pretext of going to latrine, wrestled a soldier on guard and tried to make off with his firearm. He was shot and captured dead by the guard and his body was buried in a respectful manner [near] Shwewachaung Village.”
Neither the Burmese government nor military has yet made any official statement about the incident, but Ma Thandar told DVB she will do everything in her power to confront the army and obtain justice for her husband.
“I can accept that people die, but this is different. There is no explanation for it at all. They perversely killed my husband, and the whole town of Kyeikmayaw saw him being detained,” she said.
When we filed a missing person report with the police, a police officer at the station said he also saw Aung Naing being detained, and that the journalist didn’t have a scratch on his body at the time.”
During her press conference on 21 October, Ma Thandar said that Burmese army captain San Min Aung admitted to her that Aung Naing had been arrested, but the captain also said he didn’t know where the journalist was being detained. Now Ma Thandar is convinced the Burmese army killed her husband while he was being detained, and she is planning do whatever it takes to find out exactly what happened and obtain justice.
“I will speak to my lawyer and stand up to the army as much as I can, both mentally and physically.”
DKBA Maj. Saw Lonlon denied that Aung Naing was a captain in the KKO—he said the KKO has no military ranks in its structure since it’s only the political wing of the DKBA armed group. The major also said the DKBA knew Aung Naing, but only because he had previously contacted them to obtain information for his news reports.
“We are often contacted by journalists and usually we show them around, but Aung Naing couldn’t film much because there was fighting taking place,” said Maj. Saw Lonlon
In an e-mail to DVB, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Southeast Asia Representative, Shawn Crispin, said: “We are gravely concerned by reports that journalist Aung Kyaw Naing has been killed while being held in military custody in Burma. Government authorities must investigate these reports, reveal publicly the circumstances behind his death, and prosecute the perpetrators under the fullest extent of the law.”
The civic group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS) also released a statement on Friday strongly condemning the army for summarily executing a civilian, labelling it as a lawless act.
The 88GPOS’s leader, Mya Aye, said the army is responsible for the murder of Aung Naing and the group will demand justice against the perpetrator.
“As soon as we heard news that Ko Par Gyi was missing, we reached out to government officials and stressed that he is entitled to legal rights, and that they can’t just arbitrarily detain him and take him away to unknown places,” said Mya Aye.
The 88GPOS leader then added, “We learned from Aung Naing’s family that when they first went to look for him [in Kyeikmayaw], the army told them they would be allowed to see him and that he could be released if his family bails him out. But later they backtracked on their promise and began avoiding the family.
“According to the statement released today, the army conjured up a far-fetched story about him, claiming that he was shot dead for trying to rob a gun while escaping from detention. But we do not accept that. From a legal point of view, the army has committed a crime and we demand to see effective legal action against the perpetrator(s). We will stage public protests if necessary,” said Mya Aye.
Before he began working as a freelance journalist, Aung Naing was a political activist and a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal security team during the 1988 uprising. He was also one of the first National League for Democracy (NLD) Youth members and acted as the group’s Karen state coordinator.
Eventually, Aung Naing was forced into exile in Thailand, where he started working as a freelance reporter based in Mae Sot. Prior to his death, Aung Naing was working for at least three different publications, according to his wife Ma Thandar.