By Thu Thu Aung
YANGON (Reuters) – Lawyers defending the suspected conspirators behind the murder of a prominent Muslim lawyer in Myanmar on Friday proclaimed their clients’ innocence, or asked the court for lesser charges, as the landmark case drew to a close.
Ko Ni, a close adviser to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was shot dead at Yangon International Airport just over two years ago.
The brazen murder of the 63-year-old, who worked to reform the military-drafted constitution that entrenches its political power, sent shockwaves through the ruling National League for Democracy party and the Muslim community.
It also cast a pall over constitutional reform efforts, which formed the central plank of Suu Kyi’s manifesto when she swept to power in 2015. Suu Kyi’s party this week made a fresh bid to amend the charter, clashing with army MPs.
The gunman, Kyi Lin, was apprehended at the scene after being tackled by taxi drivers moments after the shooting. Kyi Lin is also accused of shooting dead one of his pursuers, driver Nay Win.
He has admitted to killing Ko Ni, but says he acted under duress.
Kyaw Kyaw Htike, a lawyer representing Kyi Lin, pointed out inconsistencies in the prosecution’s argument and asked for reduced charges, citing the unintentional nature of Nay Win’s killing.
“If he had the intention to kill Ko Nay Win, he could have fired more bullets,” Kyaw Kyaw Htike told reporters at the Yangon northern district court, using a Burmese honorific for men.
Two out of three former military officers accused by police of organising Ko Ni’s assassination have pleaded not guilty. The third has evaded capture.
A month after the murder, Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe described the assassins as young men with “extreme nationalism” and “personal grudges”, the Irrawaddy online news magazine reported.
Police have said the three ex-officers acted in isolation.
A Reuters report in December uncovered close and enduring links between the security establishment and one of the former military officers on trial, Captain Zeyar Phyo, accused of bankrolling the plot.
Zeyar Phyo’s lawyer has rejected allegations that her client remained connected to the military. Zeyar Phyo on Friday said he wanted the court to decide “according to the law”.
Nay La, the lead lawyer representing Ko Ni’s family, speaking to reporters, questioned the request for clemency for Kyi Lin, recounting how Ko Ni had been ruthlessly gunned down as he stood outside the airport.
“The lawyer asked for clemency for Kyi Lin. I will say clearly, he killed a person, aiming at the back of his head in cold blood,” the lawyer said.
Suu Kyi published a statement this week, on the second anniversary of Ko Ni’s murder, saying it was a “big loss for Myanmar”, urging everyone “to reveal the truth and secure justice” for Ko Ni and Nay Win.
The judge said the verdict would be announced on Feb. 15.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Robert Birsel)