Asia-Pacific

Myanmar court sentences two to death for Aung San Suu Kyi lawyer's murder

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Lawyer Ko Ni advised Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy on ways to get around the army-imposed constitution.

A court in Myanmar has sentenced two men to death for the killing of a prominent Muslim lawyer who was a close adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi.

The court found the gunman, Kyi Lin, guilty of premeditated murder and illegal weapons possession for the January 29, 2017 shooting of Ko Ni in broad daylight at the Yangon airport.

An accomplice involved in planning the killing was also sentenced to death, and two other men involved in the crime received prison sentences.

A fifth suspect thought to be the crime's mastermind remains at large.

Ko Ni advised Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy on ways to get around articles in the army-imposed constitution that give the military wide powers even after Myanmar transitioned to democracy.

Ko Ni, whose work and faith made him a target of hate speech online by Buddhist nationalists, was shot in the head at point blank range in January 2017, while holding his infant grandson.

Ko Ni
Ko Ni was killed in January 2017 at Yangon Airport.

The brazen, daytime murder shocked the country and came about eight months after civilian leader Suu Kyi's administration entered office.

Ko Ni was a legal advisor to her National League for Democracy and had been working on plans to amend the 2008 military-drafted constitution, which gifts the armed forces control of defence and a quarter of parliamentary seats.

Critics have said the slow trial fell short of establishing a complete picture of what led to the murder, pointing to the military backgrounds of two suspects on trial and an elusive fugitive thought to be the mastermind.

Judge Khin Maung Maung sentenced gunman Kyi Lin, who also shot and killed a taxi driver while fleeing, "to death until he dies by hanging."

Though Myanmar has the death penalty it has not been carried out in at least 10 years, according to Amnesty International.

The shooter also received an extra 23 years and hard labour for weapons charges and the death of taxi driver Nay Win, who chased him after Ko Ni was gunned down.

Accomplice Aung Win Zaw, who was at the airport, was also sentenced to death. 

Two other defendants Zeya Phyo and Aung Win Tun, who assisted at different stages of the plot, received five years and three years imprisonment with hard labour respectively. 

Armed police, journalists and diplomats crowded the dilapidated courthouse in Insein, on the outskirts of Yangon, awaiting the verdict.

Ko Ni killers
Aung Win Zaw, centre, was also sentenced to death for his role in the killing.
AAP

Myanmar was ruled by military-backed regimes for almost five decades. The 2008 charter enshrines the military's political power by giving it an effective veto over constitutional change.

It also bars presidential candidates with foreign spouses. The clause was believed to be aimed at Suu Kyi, who had a family with a British academic.

Instead she serves as state counsellor, a position that Ko Ni is said to have devised.

The NLD formed a committee this month to discuss changes to the constitution, a move opposed by military MPs.

Ko Ni had been one of the few high-profile Muslims still involved in politics in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, after the NLD failed to enlist any Muslim candidates in its historic 2015 election run.

The case is one of many that have marred the international legacy of former dissident hero Suu Kyi, who was criticised for not going to his funeral.

Suu Kyi's global image lays in tatters for her handling of the Rohingya crisis and the jailing of two Reuters journalists.

 

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