Thousands attend funeral of slain Suu Kyi adviser

The ruling National League for Democracy's patron, Mr Tin Oo, consoling Mr Ko Ni's widow Tin Tin Aye at the family home in Yangon. Mr Tin Oo called the killing an "assassination" and said Mr Ko Ni's death was a "great loss for the country". Mr Ko Ni
The ruling National League for Democracy's patron, Mr Tin Oo, consoling Mr Ko Ni's widow Tin Tin Aye at the family home in Yangon. Mr Tin Oo called the killing an "assassination" and said Mr Ko Ni's death was a "great loss for the country".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE PHOTO
The ruling National League for Democracy's patron, Mr Tin Oo, consoling Mr Ko Ni's widow Tin Tin Aye at the family home in Yangon. Mr Tin Oo called the killing an "assassination" and said Mr Ko Ni's death was a "great loss for the country". Mr Ko Ni
Mr Ko Ni was a prominent critic of Buddhist hardliners' anti-Muslim sentiment and of the military's grip on power. He was shot dead on Sunday, just after his return from a government delegation visit to Indonesia.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ruling party and family believe slain Muslim lawyer was killed because of his politics

YANGON • Tens of thousands of mourners gathered yesterday to bury a top Muslim lawyer and adviser to Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, who was gunned down outside Yangon airport in what the ruling party said was a political assassination.

Mr Ko Ni, 63, a legal adviser to the National League for Democracy (NLD), was shot in the head on Sunday afternoon as he waited outside the airport, holding his grandson.

His killing sent shock waves through both Myanmar's already hard-pressed Muslim community as well as the ruling party in a country where political killings are rare.

Mr Ko Ni was a prominent Muslim figure who spoke out against the increasingly vocal anti-Muslim sentiments of Buddhist hardliners and criticised the powerful military's grip on power.

Mr Aung Shin, a member of the NLD's central committee, said the murder was a "well-planned, fearless conspiracy" to kill a man who had extensive legal expertise and an ability to communicate the flaws of the 2008 Constitution to the public.

Mr Ko Ni was also spearheading a new Inter-faith Harmony Bill that would include provisions on hate speech, hate crimes and discrimination, according to two experts working with him on the draft legislation.

The International Crisis Group, a think-tank that has previously sounded the alarm over rising religious intolerance in Myanmar, said the killing "underlines the urgency of the Myanmar government and society coming together to condemn all forms of hate speech".

Family members and friends told Reuters that Mr Ko Ni had received death threats connected to his political work, but the motive for the killing was not known.

Both the NLD and Mr Ko Ni's family suspect he was targeted because of his politics.

"We strongly denounce the assassination of Mr Ko Ni like this, as it is a terrorist act against the NLD's policies," the NLD said in a statement, describing him as an "irreplaceable" aide to Ms Suu Kyi, who did not attend the funeral.

She has yet to make a statement on the killing.

Distraught relatives were joined by senior NLD figures, imams, monks and members of the public, who crammed into a Muslim cemetery on the outskirts of Yangon yesterday afternoon.

"This is a very cruel and ugly tragedy," Mr Moe Zaw, a 37-year-old Muslim mourner, said.

Senior NLD leaders, including party patron Tin Oo, visited Mr Ko Ni's family before the funeral.

"Losing that kind of person is great loss for the country, for democratic forces and for us (the party)," Mr Tin Oo told reporters, describing the killing as an "assassination".

A taxi driver who tried to stop the gunman was also killed.

The attacker, named by police as Kyi Lin, 53, was arrested at the scene. Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe said the suspect was from central Myanmar's Yinmabin township and had served two stints in jail for trafficking in religious antiques.

Kyi Lin was last released in a 2014 amnesty by then President Thein Sein, he said, adding that the suspect had not given clear answers during interrogation.

A harrowing photo circulating on social media showed what appeared to be the moment when the gunman, standing behind Mr Ko Ni as he held his grandson, took aim.

Mr Ko Ni's daughter Yin Nwe Khaing said she had brought her young son to greet his grandfather at the airport. She added that her father had made enemies because he had been a prominent Muslim voice.

"As we are from a different religion, there were many people who didn't like and hated it. I think that also could be a reason (for his murder)," she told DVB TV.

Mr Ko Ni had just returned from a government delegation visit to Indonesia where regional leaders were discussing sectarian tensions in Rakhine state.

The International Crisis Group, a think-tank that has previously sounded the alarm over rising religious intolerance in Myanmar, said the killing "underlines the urgency of the Myanmar government and society coming together to condemn all forms of hate speech".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'Thousands attend funeral of slain Suu Kyi adviser'. Print Edition | Subscribe