Villagers Claim Five Karen Villagers Sentenced to Death Are Scapegoats

Karen villagers from Nyaung Chaung claim the justice system has let down five men from the village sentenced to death and one to a life sentence by the Thaton Disctrict Court in Mon State on 16 January 2015.

More than 30 villagers including the victim families and village leaders gathered to discuss the case – villagers are angry.

Villagers alleged that the suspects are scapegoats and the investigation and judicial process were flawed and say that there was no concrete evidence presented at the court. The the six men were found guilty of robbery and killing of the driver and his assistant on the Yazar Min Express Bus, that runs between Kyaikhami and Yangon, on the 8th of June 2013.

Earlier news reports of the crime cited police information and was reported in the State-owned New Light of Myanmar that there were only five robbers or hijackers that robbed passengers on the bus, six Karen villagers were charged and sentenced.

The accused men are identified as Saw Aung Htoo, Saw Zaw Weit, Saw Maung Nge, Saw Win Bo, Saw Gay sentenced to death according to article 396 and Saw Lin Aung to life imprisonment according to article 396/119.

Villagers alleged that there are lots inconsistencies with the investigation and the judicial process. They claim that the men were tortured to get them confess to the crime, deceased villagers were named as suspects, the court ignored witness statements and false evidence was produced.

Beaten into talking

The first suspect who was later delisted by the police was Saw Aung Kyaw Than, brother of Saw Win Bo, one of the five suspects sentenced to death. Saw Aung Kyaw Than was arrested by the police on June 21, 2013 for questioning and was taken to the police station in Thaton.

Saw Aung Kyaw Than said that he was detained for six days by the police and was beaten every day until he had to say something to stop the beatings. He said he shouted out his brother name.

Speaking to Karen News, Saw Aung Kyaw Than recalled his interrogation.

“I was arrested by the police while I was working on my farm and they took me to the police station for questioning. When they were interrogating me, they handcuffed me from behind, tied the rope and pulled me up and placed sharp nails on my feet. I was also beaten on my back and my chest – I still can’t do heavy work.”

Saw Aung Kyaw Than said that he was forced into his confession by the police.

“I told the police that I don’t know anything. The police told me that it’s impossible that I don’t know and they said that I must know. I told them how must I know? I couldn’t bear the beating and I told them that if you want to kill me, go ahead. They just keep on torturing me. I couldn’t stand it and I told them my brother was one of them [robbers].

Saw Htun Naing Oo, the village administration chief of Sa Khan Gyi tract strongly believes that his villagers did not do the crime and are innocent.

Speaking to Karen News, Saw Htun Naing Oo said.

“When I made my own analysis regarding the “Yarzar Min” robbery case, there is no possibility that my villagers could have done this. They [suspects] are ordinary villagers making their living here and they rarely travel out of here. The village has only 70 households and I knew from the beginning that it was not them.”

Saw Htun Naing Oo said that as village tract administration chief, he is responsible for his villagers. Whenever he sought permission to see the detained suspects, the police always turned down his request.

“They [police] arrested Saw Aung Kyaw Than first. I went there [to police station] to see him but the police didn’t allow me to see him and told me that they would release him after questioning. After 10 days Saw Aung Kyaw Than was released, more suspects were then arrested. I asked permission to see every single suspect who were arrested and the police wouldn’t allow me to see anyone. I guarantee that my villagers are honest farmers and there is no way they were involved in this robbery case.”

Evidence not heard by the court…

Saw Win Bo is one of the five suspects sentenced to death and the brother of Saw Aung Kyaw Than, the released suspect, who was initially arrested and tortured into confessing.

Saw Win Bo was a monk when he was arrested. He was defrocked and arrested by the police while practicing his Buddhism at a temple in Myawaddy Township.

The local Buddhist body and the temple Abbot issued several recommendations that Saw Win Bo was of good character and witnesses placed him at the temple at the time and day of the robbery.

Despite all the witness statements, the villagers said that the judge ignored the documents when handing down his sentences.

Villagers believe another key factor that that makes them think the six men are innocent is that an eyewitness statement from a woman said she heard the robbers speaking in the Mon language.

An eyewitness statement made at the court and a copy obtained by the villagers, Daw Yin Aye, a passenger of the robbed Yarzar Min bus who is of Mon ethnicity said that she saw and heard the passengers, (turned hijackers and robbers) speaking in the Mon language.

Daw Yin Aye said that as she is Mon and speaks Mon language, the robbers didn’t take anything from her.

Daw Yin Aye’s statement has angered the suspects’ families and fellow villagers as they said that the police and the court totally ignored this information and failed to further investigate.

Earlier news report on the case stated that the passengers were robbed of their gold items and money amounting to 4,887,000 Kyat in cash.

U Saw Win Htun, a well-known businessman from Thaton Town is helping with the six villagers case has alleged that police made up the evidence presented to the court.

U Saw Win Htun said police failed to retract any of the evidence to the court. He alleged that since there is no evidence, the police arranged to buy a 9mm pistol from local Karen National Union officials and presented it to the court as a weapon used in the robbery.

Speaking to Karen News, Saw Win Htun said.

“No actual evidence could be presented to the court by the police. According to the robbed victims, the items the robbers took from them included gold items – necklaces, watches, mobile phones and cash. When the police fail to retract any of the evidence, they sought help from Khaing Htun, a village tract administration chief from Moe Kaung, to buy a small gun from a [Karen National Liberation Army] tactical commander from 1st Brigade and used it as evidence to justify the death sentence and life imprisonment of the six villagers.”

Villagers obtained a copy of the buy and sale agreement made between the two parties, but said that the court refused the receipts and demanded the KNLA commander give a statement to the court.

Villagers said that despite other KNU officials making a statement at the court stating that the gun was truly owned by their colleague the judge insisted that the KNLA tactical commander give a statement.

Villagers said that they have tried to seek help several ways by submitting letters to several organisations, including the Karen National Union, the President of Burma – U Thien Sien, the rule of law committee led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and 10 other departments at Naypyidaw.

Naw Pwa Ler, wife of Saw Zaw Weit, one of the five suspects sentenced to death said that more than one year of her husband has being kept behind bars has made it hard on her.

Speaking to Karen News, Naw Pwa Ler said.

“Me and my children now face difficulties for our living as my husband has been detained for more than a year. When there were court hearings, I couldn’t take care of my children and they sometimes had nothing to eat.”

Naw Pwa Ler called for justice for her husband’s case.

“I want justice for my husband. They do to us as they want. I plea that anyone who can help us, please help seek justice for us.”

For the Burmese version video story related to the case click here.

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