Yangon women demand death penalty for rapists

Taxi driver Myo Zaw Oo is on trial in Yangon after confessing to the rape and murder of civil servant Shwe Yee Win on Jan. 20. Photo: Yangon Police
Taxi driver Myo Zaw Oo is on trial in Yangon after confessing to the rape and murder of civil servant Shwe Yee Win on Jan. 20. Photo: Yangon Police

A group of women protested outside the North Dagon Township court on Feb. 8 to demand the death penalty for anyone convicted of rape in Myanmar, including those who were convicted in the past.

The protest was organized by the Myanmar Women’s Safeguarding Team to coincide with the second court appearance of taxi driver Myo Zaw Oo, who is suspected of raping and murdering 26-year-old Food and Drug Administration staffer Shwe Yee Win on Jan. 20.

The case has raised security concerns among Yangon women and rights groups, who say the city needs more police patrols, CCTV systems, street lights, and relocations of bus stops.

In addition to these deterrence schemes, some women going a few steps further, saying rapists must die.

“We aim to enact a new law giving death sentences to rapists instead of prison punishment. We request the government gives the death sentence to any rapists without granting amnesty,” Myanmar Women’s Safeguarding Team secretary Khin Thandar told Eleven.

“There is no rule of law in our country, and there is no safety for the women. All Myanmar women want to give the death sentence to rapists. We request the government gives the death sentence to rapists, including those previously convicted,” she added.

During the hearing, protesters distributed pamphlets titled “Any rape case must be given the death sentence” to passersby.

Under Myanmar’s current law (Penal Code, Section 376), men who are convicted of rape can be sentenced to at least 10 years in prison, unless the victim is his wife, in which case the prison sentence cannot be longer than two years.

Shwe Yee Win was declared missing on Jan. 20 after she failed to return from Hledan Center to her parents’ home in Dagon Township by 8pm. Her body was discovered near the Ngamoyake Creek Bridge in North Dagon Township the following day.

Police arrested Myo Zaw Oo after a phone services shop reported that he had come in with the victim’s phone. During an interrogation, the suspect said he had picked up Shwe Yee Win near Hledan Center before quarrelling over the taxi fare near her home. He then allegedly stopped the car, strangled her until she passed out, stabbed her in the neck with a screwdriver, drove to North Dagon Township, and raped her while she was unconscious.

A police photo of the suspect shows him posing with Shwe Yee Win’s belongings, including jewelry, a purse, and a phone.

Shwe Yee Win was buried during a well-attended funeral on Jan. 23 at Yangon’s Yay Way Cemetery.

Rape is believed to be on the rise in Yangon, as it has accounted for accounted for 229 of 469 major crimes recorded in 2016 and for 270 of 478 major crimes in 2017.

One online petition is calling on Myanmar authorities to ensure justice for Shwe Yee Win by imposing harsher punishments for convicted rapists, but it does not mention the death penalty.

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