Myanmar’s Attorney General has ordered a Yangon court to reopen the murder case against three men suspected of beating a popular internet comedian to death at a festival last New Year’s Eve. The suspects are rumored to have fled the country after they were released from prison under questionable circumstances on July 25, but the government has said it will prosecute them nonetheless.
Viral video star Aung Yell Htwe was severely beaten at a New Year’s festival at Yangon’s ONE Entertainment Park and died at Yangon General Hospital on Jan. 2. That day, Yangon resident Than Htut Aung (aka Thar Gyi) surrendered to police and confessed that he and his two friends – Pyae Phyo Aung (aka Aung Lay) and Kyaw Zaw Han (aka Kyaw Zaw) – committed the deadly beating. The three young men, who reportedly had an altercation with the victim’s brother a few days before the deadly beating, were charged with murder.
However, almost eight months after the investigation into the alleged murder began, the plaintiff in the case, Thant Zin Oo, submitted a request to have the case dismissed, claiming a lack of evidence. Eleven has reported that Aung Yell Htwe’s family supported the dismissal. Yangon Region’s attorney general dismissed the case on July 25, and the three suspects were unconditionally released.
Shortly thereafter, netizens noticed that a Facebook account with the name “Than Htut Aung” – the same name as one of the suspects – had a cover photo depicting a man in a balaclava with a sneering expression. Though it’s unclear whether the account belongs to the suspect, the image went viral, prompting people around the country, including elected officials and activists, to denounce the decision to release the three men.
Myanmar president Win Myint called a meeting with Yangon government officials on Sunday to discuss the importance of the rule of law and dangers of a corrupted judicial system. Yangon regional lawmaker Wai Phyo Han told the Irrawaddy that the president referred to the news of the suspects’ release as “puzzling and deeply disturbing.”
Yesterday, government spokesman Zaw Htay announced on Facebook that President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi had questioned the officials involved in the decision to drop the case. They reportedly reiterated the claim that they lacked evidence to proceed. This claim has rung hollow among the public, as it has already been widely reported that the beating was committed in public, in front of numerous witnesses.
Zaw Htay also announced that the Union-level Attorney General’s Office had annulled the court’s dismissal of the case and ordered it reopened. He also said that if rumors that the suspects have fled the country are true, the government will work with Interpol to repatriate them.
Interpol already lists two murder suspects who are wanted by Myanmar. The first is UK national Harris Binotti, who is suspected of having fatally beaten fellow UK national Gary Ferguson in Yangon in Nov. 2016 and fleeing the country before the investigation began. Binotti is known to be living in Glasgow, but the UK Home Office rejected Myanmar’s extradition request last month.
The second internationally wanted suspect is Aung Win Khaing – a former military officer and alleged mastermind of the Jan. 2017 assassination of lawyer Ko Ni, who was an advisor to the National League for Democracy, which holds a majority in Myanmar’s parliament.