They killed your son, they’ll kill you too” The struggle for justice for Maung Ne Zaw

In July 2006 the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued an appeal on the death in police custody of Maung Ne Zaw, a 28-year-old man in Kachin State, on the border of China in the far north of Burma, after he and two friends were stopped and assaulted at a checkpoint on the Mandalay-Myitkyina road on March 14 (AHRC UA-222-2006). Ne Zaw apparently died from his injuries on May 2. His mother, Daw Mi Mi Htun, was forced to leave the country after she was constantly harassed for attempting to have a complaint brought against the responsible officers. In August 2007 a staff member of the AHRC met with her in Thailand and recorded a lengthy interview, of which the following are extracts. Certain details have been omitted for the security of some persons concerned.

On 14 March 2006, around 2pm, my son Maung Ne Zaw with his two friends Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 2.58.54 PMMaung Thingyan Htun and Maung Thura Kyaw were coming from Hobin on two motorbikes and were heading back to Mohnyin, a journey of about 20 miles. At around halfway there is a big village called Lehhmi, with a stream running through it. There is a bridge across the stream with some snack shops and teashops and it’s a place where people collect religious donations. Not far away there are farm huts too.

At the bridge there is a drug squad unit with a checkpoint. So the kids had to stop the bike and they searched them and the bikes, but didn’t see anything. But the police, five in total—including Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi—started to beat the kids. That’s what Maung Thingyan Htun said later. They hit with their fists and feet and with bamboo rods and sticks.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 3.10.46 PMAt that time a van from the Mohnyin district lockup came along with detainees for Hobin and stopped nearby where people were collecting the religious donations. Then someone in the van told the crowd that someone was getting beaten up back further and they should go to intervene. They didn’t know it was police because they were not in uniform. So the people ran over to stop it but the police said, “We’re police, don’t interfere or we’ll lodge a case against you too.” When the people knew that they were police, they couldn’t do anything.

Then the police handcuffed them behind their backs and took them into a field about 50 yards away where there was a clump of bamboo. They separated them just so far that they could still hear each other. Maung Thura Kyaw was tied to the post of a farm hut and the other two were tied to bamboo. Then they beat them again, with their boots in the stomach, with fists to the head, with bamboo rods and sticks, and whipped them with rope that was used for tying cows there. The officer talked on his walkie-talkie while the others took turns hitting.

My son stayed quiet, but Maung Thingyan Htun spoke back at them. “What do you think you’re doing? Don’t set us up.” The eyewitnesses said that they felt very sorry for the kids and my son was hit until he lost

consciousness, up until about 5pm. Then they brought them back together and four kept beating them while the fifth left on a motorbike. When he came back after about 20 minutes, the eyewitnesses saw a small bottle of drugs in his shirt pocket, which he showed the kids and put in Maung Thingyan Htun’s bag. One person who saw was Ko Ko Win, the nephew of the owner of the hut where they brought the kids. He was just a boy so the police didn’t take notice of him.

After a short time one of the police went to find the new village chairman, U Kyaw Myint, and took the kids to the village office and had him take the bottle of drugs out and forced him to sign something. The old chairman U Kyaw Khin was there too. They also tried to force the three kids to sign but they refused. So then they hit them again and said, “Sign! Sign!” but they refused. Then the beat them until they signed. After that they took them to the Hobin Police Station.

None of the families had any news that they had been arrested. After three days they were sent to Mohnyin court and only then did news come by word of mouth, because the court staff know us and were surprised to see them there like that. The first time they went the judge saw that my son couldn’t stand up. He could only lie on the bench. My son was sick, but at that time I wasn’t in town. Only my 80-year-old mother was there.

The second time they went to court after one week my son was worse than before. The third time he couldn’t walk. He had to be carried in. Then on March 27 it looked like he would die. He couldn’t breathe or urinate. So they sent him to Mohnyin hospital but they wouldn’t admit him. So they sent him back to Hobin hospital, which is smaller and doesn’t have as good facilities. Then after that on March 30 they sent him to the Myitkyina hospital. After that a friend went to check on him because I wasn’t there and found that because nobody was following with him so they didn’t take care of him properly or give medicine or anything. But after staying there he was a little bit better, he could drink something. So he was kept there until April 23 when he was brought back to Hobin lockup again.

He died in the lockup at 4pm on May 2. He didn’t get any treatment at all or get fed properly once back there. They sent his body to Hobin hospital.

After three days I came back to Myitkyina but I couldn’t find my son anywhere. I thought he was at Mohnyin so I called to a friend who is a neighbour there and she told me that he had died.

I immediately went back to Mohnyin and asked what had gone on and then went to Hobin hospital on May 6. But they already cremated him on May 3. I met the doctor, Dr. Myo Myo Win, and asked, “What happened? How did it happen?” But she just said that, “I have already informed the authorities about the cause of death and put it in the death certificate. It’s not my job to tell you.” I didn’t get anything from her. I didn’t tried to get documents but they wouldn’t give anything.

After that I left. The other two kids were still in the lockup. I went to meet with them. It’s only about ten minutes from the hospital. I wanted to know what had happened with them. But I couldn’t get permission to meet with them in private. We had to talk to them in the presence of the police. Anyway I asked, “Tu tu,” that’s how we call Maung Thura Kyaw, “Tu tu, did they beat you?” But they couldn’t tell anything exactly.

On May 10 I arranged to give alms to the monks for the funeral service. There I met the father of Maung Thingyan Htun and I asked, “Uncle, what happened with my son?” I found out that he had left messages for me that my son was not well.

The day after I went to the bridge where it had all happened. I asked people around there, “What happened to my son, my child?” I begged them to tell me everything they knew. People there told me that, “The two chairmen know. Go and see them.” So I went to U Kyaw Myint’s house and met with him.

At that time everyone in the village heard that the mother of the boy had come and everyone came around the house to see and listen. We sat upstairs and I told him why I had come and asked him to explain what had happened and at that time also U Kyaw Khin arrived. He said that the police procedure wasn’t correct because if they wanted him to be a witness then they should have called him beforehand and then searched them. But when they called them to his house they had already been searched and they placed his hand to find what was there.

I didn’t talk too much more there, but went back to ask around about what happened. I found out from the owner of the hut where the three were beaten that Ko Ko Win had seen everything. So I went to try to meet him at Tagwin village, about 20 minutes walk away. I went and met him and he said how he saw the three brought, how they were beaten, how the drugs were planted.

Then I hired a motorbike and brought this kid, he was 13, back to Hobin and then after I left him at a house there I went to Myitkyina to meet with General Ohn Myint, who is the state commander. After getting there at about 6pm on May 11, General Ohn Myint had already gone to Naypyitaw at about 2pm so I couldn’t meet him. I went to stay at the guesthouse and wait for him to come back. After three days he still hadn’t come back so then I went back.

When I went back to Hobin I met with the father of Ko Htun [Maung Thingyan Htun] and found out that the trial was going on the next day, May 15. So we took the boy to the court and the judge let him testify as an eyewitness and he told everything that he saw to the amazement of everybody. The judge asked him, “Who taught you to say like this?” And the boy replied, “No one. Only my uncle told me to tell the truth and say what I saw.” So everyone was surprised. He told how they were beaten and how my son was knocked unconscious and how the police carried on saying, “Kill them!” and so on. He also described about the police carrying a plastic bottle that he put in Ko Htun’s bag. The bottle was there in court as evidence, and he said clearly that it was the police’s bottle, not my son’s bottle, not the others’ bottle.

I guess it took over two months to finish the trial. About five hearings were held. Doctors checked the two kids and found that they weren’t drug users and local authorities also submitted that they didn’t have any records of them being involved in crimes. But still on May 24 even though they hadn’t finished the testimonies Ko Htun got six years. It was just one less than the maximum seven years. How is it possible?

I still tried to get the boy who saw everything to meet again with state officials. After my son’s funeral I had gone to the Myoma computer shop in Mohnyin town and made a letter about the case with the help of someone there. But at that time that we had finished the draft the police happened to come to the shop and I had to leave and later that person brought it to my house. But this person told the police about the letter and they told the police at Hobin. So it turns out that they already knew when I went to Myitkyina that I would try to make a complaint to General Ohn Myint.

First letter from Daw Mi Mi Htun to regional military command

To

Regional Commander General Ohn Myint Northern Regional Command Headquarters Myitkyina

Date: 18 May 2006

Subject: Complaint for action to be taken against Special Anti-drug Squad Police Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi and four police officers who beat to death my son, Maung Ne Zaw, ID No. 1/MaNyaNa (Naing) 116228, aged 28

Dear respected Regional Commander

I, Daw Mi Mi Htun, ID No. 1/MaNyaNa (Naing) 077802, aged 48, resident of Myoma Ward, Mohnyin town, submit as follows.

1. On 14/3/2006 at around 2pm at Lehhmi village on the Myitkyina-Mandalay Highway, Maung Ne Zaw, aged 28, Maung Thingyan Htun and Maung Tu Tu, were coming from Hobin back to Mohnyin with Maung Thingyan Htun riding one motorcycle and the other two on one motorcycle when they were searched at a bamboo boom gate manned by Special Anti-drug Squad police under command of Police Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi. They found no incriminating items. Thereafter they took them to a field behind the site about 50 yards away tied with rope and handcuffed them behind their backs whereupon they assaulted them. When the owner of the field, Ko Maung Htoke, arrived, they separated Maung Ne Zaw, Maung Thingyan Htun and Maung Tu Tu and continued to assault them. They tortured them until about 5pm when one of the five police brought a small bottle of heroin and placed it in Maung Thingyan Htun’s bag and then they opened a drug case against the three and placed them in the lockup.

2. Due to the injuries he suffered in the assault, my son Maung Ne Zaw was unwell and in pain. On 27/3/2006 when he was sent to the Hobin Hospital his injuries were so serious that the hospital would not admit him and he had to be sent along to the Mohnyin Hospital but there too he was not admitted. Slipping in and out of consciousness and critically ill, he was brought back again to Hobin Hospital.

3. Due to his critical ill health, on 30/3/2006 Maung Ne Zaw was taken and admitted to the Myitkyina Regional Hospital until 23/4/2006 as an inpatient in the hospital lockup and then he was brought back to Hobin Police Station where he was kept in continuous detention. Maung Ne Zaw could only attend court four times, he could not continue after that. He died on his mat in the Hobin lockup from injuries sustained by the assault of the five police officers on 2/5/2006.

4. Concerning the matter over which he was arrested, Maung Ne Zaw was completely innocent. A document produced in court has shown that a urine sample was free from any traces of drugs.

5. My son Maung Ne Zaw’s death was due to the injuries resulting from the unjust assault and torture of Special Anti-drug Squad Police Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi and police officers. There were many eyewitnesses at the time of the assault.

6. Accordingly, I submit this complaint in faith and reliance upon you, Regional Commander, to take action in accordance with the law against the Special Anti- drug Squad police killers of my son, Maung Ne Zaw, Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi and the four police officers.

… Respectfully

Daw Mi Mi Htun 1/MaNyaNa (Naing) 077802 (Deceased’s mother) Myoma Ward, Mohnyin

Copies to:

1. State Police Commander, Kachin State, Myanmar Police Force, Myitkyina 2. District Police Commander, Mohnyin District, Myanmar Police Force,

Mohnyin

3. Township Police Commander, Mohnyin Township, Myanmar Police Force,

Mohnyin

So on May 11 about ten police were waiting at the Hobin train station, because they got information that I was travelling. They got on the train and tried to search for me, but because they didn’t know my face they couldn’t find me easily. They pretended that they were searching for drugs and went from passenger to passenger checking the papers. From just a few seats away I saw Khin Maung Nyi was leading them. But they missed me and went to another carriage. After they got to the end of the train and couldn’t find me they came back again, this time asking for the ID of every passenger. So it was obvious they were not looking for drugs. Then because I was sitting among Mokaung passengers, not Mohnyin passengers, when they came to that part of the train they asked the guard, “Are there Mohnyin passengers here?” And the guard said, “There are none.” Still they checked ID but not thoroughly and when they came to me I pretended to be searching in my luggage for it and the police was impatient so he told the ticket collector to check it but he wasn’t interested. Then the train arrived at Mokaung and I got down there instead of continuing on the train, and hired a motorbike to Myitkyina from there.

When I went to Myitkyina a second time on May 17 I met with the lawyer and he worked on the letter to the state chief, with copies to the police chiefs at the state, district and township. It was finished in late night. I couldn’t sleep. Then early in the next morning I took it and got it typed and sent it. After that I went back to my friend’s house. At that time police in plainclothes with walkie-talkies came to the house and talked with the occupant. So I didn’t dare to stay there anymore and instead I went to stay at the teashop owned by the brother-in-law of a military commander, so they wouldn’t search there. I stayed there

until 19. When I was going out a police jeep also was waiting there, as well as some officers in plain clothes with walkie- talkies.

I went straight to the compound of the deputy state military commander and started crying. I asked the guards at the checkpoint to let me meet him and I told them about the case. “I have no place to run,” I told them. “I’ll eat and sleep here if necessary.” But I couldn’t see him because he had gone for a meeting. So a Myitkyina police commander came and asked what had happened and the guards said that “her son was killed” and explained. He came and asked me again, “What happened? Why are you crying?” So I said, “Drug police killed my son.” Then another senior officer came, who was also drug squad. The first officer told him, “Your men killed her son and now they are chasing her and giving trouble so it’s you who needs to solve this.” Then that one told me, “Come. Come along.” But I was afraid and refused to go with him. “I just want to see the deputy commander,” I said and I didn’t go. Then I used the phone at the checkpoint to contact the lawyer and asked him what to do, and he advised me, “No way should you go along,” so I just waited.

At that time, one military intelligence officer came by. He asked, “What’s going on?” So the guards on the checkpoint said that “the police killed her son” and explained again. Then he told the guards on the post, “Call up and check.” The reply came from the second commander to go to the military police and have them handle the case. When we got to there, we met Major Thet Htun Aung and I gave my letter and he inquired about it. So after that they said that they needed the documents from the court, the hospital and eyewitnesses.

The next day I went back to Mohnyin by bus and got down at Lehhmi. When I reached there I went to get the boy Ko Ko Win and bring him back to the town. It was almost dark when we got back and I took him to stay at a friend’s house, not my own house. Then I took a bicycle to go home. On the way, a policeman started to follow with a walkie-talkie. Then I didn’t go back home and rode around and around and went to the main pagoda. After a while I went to the house of another friend. By then it was almost 9pm. So he said, “This guy will hang around. Don’t sleep at my house.” Then he sent me to another house nearby. As there was no electricity, I could walk in the darkness without being seen. But I still couldn’t sleep. I was always on alert.

At around 2am suddenly there was all this noise. “What is it?” I thought, “Maybe fire brigade?” Then a group of about five motorbikes entered the street and went into an adjacent compound. They ordered the owner to run a generator so they could search it. That place used to have a lot of people come and stay, that’s why they searched it. Of course they didn’t find anything. They also searched around the outside and in other places so I went and hid near a well. By about 4am everyone was awake and alarmed at what was going on but they couldn’t find me. I overheard a woman say, “What’s up with these police?” and another said, “They’re searching for a visitor.”

Around that time some people started going out to begin buying and selling so then I also came back to my friend’s house and asked for help from his son so I could go back to Myitkyina. He took me to the middle of town where it was crowded, then went to get Ko Ko Win. After that all three of us went back to Myitkyina and I immediately took the kid to the army officer and they took him and interviewed him somewhere else. After they finished, I asked about it and they said that, “He gave it all point by point as you said.” So they were convinced that I had a case.

I asked to be able to stay at the army compound and they allowed it after I made a written request. We stayed there from then, May 21, until June 5. We didn’t go anywhere.

Then I met with the state commander along with U Htun Wei and his wife, the father and mother of Maung Thingyan Htun. It happens that the wife of the commander is from Mohnyin, and she is a close friend of Htun Wei and I since schooldays. So the commander accepted the story but said that, “I am not a police officer, I can’t do anything about this case.” So he called a military intelligence officer, Major Naing Lin, about it. Then he wrote a letter and had all of us read it. In it he said that the case damaged the prestige of the armed forces government. He said that he would send it to higher ups. Then we were interviewed by military intelligence.

After that Htun Wei and his wife went back to Mohnyin because they were appealing his son’s sentence in court, but I stayed on there for another three days. After two more days, Major Naing Lin called me to his office. At that time I saw that he had also called for Dr. Myo Myo Win and another woman doctor from Myitkyina who had treated my son. So he let me ask, “So, from what did my son die?” And they said that it was malaria, HIV and pneumonia. And I said, “Why when I asked you at the Hobin hospital you didn’t mention these things? I can’t accept what you’re saying because you didn’t tell me then.” Then Major Naing Lin called on the phone to another doctor, from Mohnyin, Dr. Ohn Soe Lin. She had checked on his condition at that time, but I heard her say on the phone that he had not had any injuries. But there was also Dr. Hla Soe, the superintendent at the hospital, who had refused to admit him. And my mother saw his injuries. So I was dissatisfied with all this.

At this time I realised that the case was weakened because of the doctors. Meanwhile, outside the army compound there were many police and special security police waiting, and I felt afraid about what would happen. I complained to Major Thet Htun Aung and he wanted to support the case but couldn’t afford to do more about it.

On June 14 I made another complaint letter and sent it to military intelligence, Bureau of Special Investigation and ordinary police. BSI contacted to me after a day but they just asked, “Aren’t you a political party representative?” I said that, “I came here to answer questions to clear up this case.” So after that I told the army that I would have to go back to make a funerary for my son. And I thought it would be alright because all the army officers knew about the case. But Htun Wei called and warned me, “Don’t underestimate the police. The top police chief already came to Hobin and visited the hospital and they are planning to block you.”

When I came to the train station I saw crowds of police. They boarded the train and searched through everyone’s luggage. I was afraid that they would set me up too, so I got down from the train and went to the lawyer to ask for his advice. He said, “They killed your son, they will kill you too. Don’t stay here. Just go. You cannot win.” So on the same day I sold all my jewellery at the Myitkyina market and to avoid them crossed the Irrawaddy by boat and entered China, then crossed back into Kachin State at Bhamo by travelling with a public vehicle. I slept there for one night and then went to Mandalay, and again the next day travelled to Tachilek. There I crossed into Thailand.

After I was here I did some interviews that were broadcast on the short wave radio stations. Then I heard from someone back there that General Ohn Myint had remarked that he had tried to solve the case fairly but I had handled the case like a politician, not like a mother. If I had handled the case like a mother not a politician then I would have won, he said.

But in the end the appeal of Maung Thingyan Htun was successful and he was released.

Second letter from Daw Mi Mi Htun to regional military command

To

Regional Commander General Ohn Myint Northern Regional Command Headquarters Myitkyina

Date: 14 June 2006

Subject: Complaint for action to be taken in accordance with the appropriate law against Special Anti-drug Squad Police Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi and four police officers who unjustly brought a narcotic drugs case against honest- living youths

Dear respected Regional Commander

I, Daw Mi Mi Htun, ID No. 1/MaNyaNa (Naing) 077802, aged 48, resident of Myoma Ward, Mohnyin town, submit as follows.

article 2 October-December 2007 Vol. 6, No. 5-6

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I am a person who speaks and lives truthfully, who works and does things honestly. My son Maung Ne Zaw, Maung Thura Kyaw and Maung Thingyan Htun also were well-behaved and honest youths. They didn’t take drugs or even smoke. They paid attention to their surroundings. However, Special Anti-drug Squad Police Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi and his four subordinates unjustly charged these youths with a narcotics offence in the court. They also beat them savagely. As a result of the savage beating my son Maung Ne Zaw died. Maung Thingyan Htun was given six years in prison.

Special Anti-drug Squad Police Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi and his four subordinates just act indecently, unlawfully and bully the people. We the people have just become prey for this Special Anti-drug Squad’s hunting for money and bullying. Because of their actions, the people have lost their possessions, homes, fields, and have become desperate and impoverished. We don’t know how many people now they have arrested to demand and squeeze money from (or) press narcotics charges, or furthermore how many they have unjustly assaulted.

Accordingly, I submit this complaint in faith and reliance upon you, Regional Commander, to take action in accordance with the law in order that [the alleged perpetrators] cannot again unjustly detain and charge and squeeze money from the people over narcotics cases.

I am a person who respects the dignity of the Armed Forces. I believe that you, Regional Commander, will stand truly on the side of the people. I refuse the advances of any political party or foreign broadcaster [short wave radio]. I believe that we should solve our internal problems internally. Therefore I have come and made this complaint to you as a mother and a citizen who respects the dignity of the Armed Forces and trusts in you, Regional Commander.

Accordingly, I further submit to you as per my separate complaint that effective, severe action be taken in accordance with the appropriate law against the Special Anti-drug Squad police, Superintendent Khin Maung Nyi and the four police officers, who unjustly pressed narcotics charges against my son Maung Ne Zaw, Maung Thura Kyaw and Maung Thingyan Htun.

… Respectfully

Daw Mi Mi Htun 1/MaNyaNa (Naing) 077802 (Deceased’s mother) Myoma Ward, Mohnyin

Copies to:

– Military Intelligence Unit, Northern Regional Command Headquarters, Myitkyina

– Military Intelligence Unit, Platoon 2, Section 1, Mohnyin

– Special Investigation Department, Myitkyina

– State Police Commander, Kachin State, Myanmar Police

Force, Myitkyina

– District Police Commander, Mohnyin District, Myanmar

Police Force, Mohnyin

– Township Police Commander, Mohnyin Township, Myanmar

Police Force, Mohnyin

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