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Trial against alleged assassin of lawyer Ko Ni and co-conspirators will continue

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)

Despite innocent pleas from the suspected killer of the prominent lawyer Ko Ni and three alleged co-conspirators, a court decided at a hearing on Friday to move forward with prosecuting the four men.

Yangon’s Northern District Court will charge Kyi Lin, the alleged assassin, under section 302(1)(b) of the Penal Code, a premeditated murder provision.

Aung Win Zaw and Zeyar Phyo are being tried under section 34, a charge brought against alleged co-conspirators of a crime that could render them liable to the same criminal penalties faced by Kyi Lin. A fourth defendant in the case, Aung Win Tun, is looking at a charge under section 212, which covers knowingly harbouring an accused criminal.

Lawyer Aung Khine for suspected co-conspirators Aung Win Zaw and Aung Win Tun said that his clients were not satisfied with the decision to press on with the prosecution and would file an appeal to the Yangon regional court.

“Also the families want us to file to the regional-level court. We will file soon,” he said. According to the prosecuting lawyers, the defendants’ counsel told the judge that they want to recall 37 of the prosecution’s witnesses to testify once again before the court.

Prosecuting lawyer Robert San Aung told DVB on Friday that the case would be prolonged significantly if that request is granted, expressing disappointment at the prospect.

“I think the case may take more than six [more] months,” he said, while adding that “recalling the prosecution’s witnesses is their right.”

Ko Ni was gunned down in broad daylight at Yangon International Airport on 29 January 2017. The alleged assassin Kyi Lin was arrested at the airport shortly after the murder, largely thanks to a vigilante cohort that chased him down including 42-year-old Nay Win, who was also shot dead in pursuit of the gunman.

Kaung San, son of defendant Aung Win Tun, said his father had no discussions with fellow suspected co-conspirator Aung Win Zaw about any plot to kill Ko Ni. He added that his father, who is Aung Win Zaw’s brother, had no knowledge of any connection between Aung Win Zaw and Kyi Lin, the alleged assassin.

The suspected mastermind of the assassination, Aung Win Khaing, is also a brother of Aung Win Tun and Aung Win Zaw, and he remains at large.

The next hearing in the trial has been scheduled for 16 February.

At a prior hearing on 2 February, a small group of Buddhist nationalists assembled outside the courthouse including a man who wore a T-shirt printed with the words “Htamin wa aung sa htar” — a Burmese phrase that amounts to a threat to “eat while you still can.” He gave identical T-shirts to the four suspects as they were marched into the courthouse for that hearing.

But the apparent gesture of support for the defendants has brought legal repercussions: On Tuesday, the administrator for Insein Township, Aye Min, filed a criminal case with the local court seeking charges against them under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, an incitement provision.

Aye Min said on Friday that their T-shirt gambit threatened to disrupt the judicial process and was relevant to the 505(b) prohibition against acts intended to provoke “fear or alarm [among] the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”

“I don’t know yet whether the police have arrested them or not. But the court issued a warrant to arrest them,” he said.