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Father casts doubt on police account of publisher son’s murder

A portrait and photograph of Wai Yan Heinn, late publisher of the Iron Rose journal. (Image: DVB TV)

The father of slain news publisher Wai Yan Heinn has questioned a police statement suggesting his son was murdered earlier this month by a lone killer in a crime of passion linked to an extramarital affair.

The decomposing body of Wai Yan Heinn, publisher of the Iron Rose weekly news journal, was discovered on 16 April when neighbours reported to police a foul smell emanating from his office in Rangoon’s Pazundaung Township. He was stabbed more than a dozen times and is believed to have been dead for at least two days when his body was found. News of the publisher’s grisly murder and photos of the crime scene subsequently spread on social media.

Rangoon police on Friday reported that a suspect in the murder, identified as cargo ship officer Aung Ko Ko, was detained in the Mandalay Division town of Pyin Oo Lwin. The 31-year-old confessed to killing Wai Yan Heinn, 27, in a fit of rage after he went to confront the victim at his office on 14 April over an alleged affair that the publisher was having with the accused killer’s wife. The suspect reportedly confessed to police that the murder weapon was a knife that had been sitting on a desk at the office.

But shortly after the police statement on Friday, Sein Oak, the father of Wai Yan Heinn, spoke to the media, questioning the accuracy of that report.

“The [police] report suggested it was a fight between two people. My son was over six feet tall and pretty well built. If there was only one adversary, there would have been at least a scuffle as he was being repeatedly stabbed. People fight for their life in this kind of situation,” said Sein Oak.

“It is hard for us to believe there was only one person involved.”

He said the family of the slain man reached out to law enforcement authorities in Pazundaung to verify the information in Friday’s police report.

“My daughter went to the Pazundaung police station and met its commander and asked him whether their information was based solely on the suspect’s account or whether there had been any verification. The commander responded that he didn’t know so she went to the deputy commander, who said it was based on the suspect’s confession,” said Sein Oak.

“My suggestion is that the police should verify the information thoroughly before they release it to the public.”

On Sunday, Rangoon police reported that a second man suspected of involvement in the murder had been detained. According to the report, Phyi Thu Naing, also known as Phyo Thaw, was detained on Saturday. The police statement said authorities’ investigation is ongoing, indicating that more suspects could be sought.

Police said hair samples from the two suspects have been sent to a government laboratory to compare their DNA to that of samples found at the scene of the crime.

With the murders of two other Burmese journalists since 2014, speculation has swirled over the killer’s motives in the Iron Rose case, particularly given the journal’s sometimes critical coverage of the government and military establishment.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday urged “Burmese authorities to conduct a swift investigation that considers the possibility that he was killed in connection with his journalism.” The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a similar call on Thursday.

Law enforcement authorities, however, appear eager to tamp down any notion that the killing was tied to Iron Rose’s editorial output: “Police said that the murder was not linked with Iron Rose stories as had been incorrectly reported previously,” read a report in Saturday’s state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.