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Ko Ni murder trial: Prosecutor seeks change of courtroom

Kyi Lin, centre, accused of being involved in the murder of Ko Ni, is escorted as he arrives at the court in Rangoon on 17 March 2017. (Photo: AFP)

Prosecuting lawyer Robert San Aung said he has requested a change of venue in the trial of four men suspected of involvement in the murder of government adviser Ko Ni, following intimidation tactics last week by protesters at a hearing outside Yangon’s Northern District Court.

Robert San Aung told DVB today that he had sent a letter to President Htin Kyaw, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned ministries and officials on Sunday, saying that he wanted the trial moved to a different district court.

At Friday’s hearing, Burmese nationalists congregated outside the courthouse to voice support for the four suspects. One supporter wore a T-shirt imprinted with the phrase, “Htamin wa aung sa htar”, which roughly translates as “Eat while you can,” and can be either genial or menacing, depending on the tone and context. He gave identical T-shirts to the four defendants appearing in court that day.

The protesters said they came to the courthouse to pay respect to Kyi Lin who is the alleged assassin in the case. Ko Ni, the victim, who was a Muslim and an adviser to Suu Kyi, was gunned down in broad daylight at Yangon International Airport on 29 January 2017.

Robert San Aung said that the supporters were voicing solidarity with Kyi Lin for committing the assassination. He added that the police should have prevented the rally as it took place directly outside the courthouse.

“We [prosecuting lawyers] put this to the judges but they rejected the argument, saying it did not interfere with the trial,” he said. “That’s why I had to take an additional step in sending an appeal to high-ranking officials. I believe they will do something about it.”

The prominent lawyer, known for his pursuit of human rights, said that he advocated relocating the trial to Eastern District Court, Western District Court or the Insein prison compound.

“I am not calling for a change of judges, only the venue for the trial,” he continued. “The current courthouse is unsafe for the prosecuting lawyers and journalists. We are also worried for the security for the defendants.”

Speaking at a press conference yesterday in Yangon, lawyer Chit Ko Ko, the chairman of the Yangon Lawyers Association, said, “This [type of public rally] does not bode well for the trial. The police should have taken action to disperse those supporters because they violated the law.”

Since Ko Ni’s assassination last year, speculation has swirled about the motive for the killing, with a fringe segment of the Buddhist nationalist movement praising Kyi Lin for taking the life of the country’s most influential Muslim legal scholar.