YANGON (Reuters) - A funeral was held Friday for a Myanmar journalist, two days after his body was exhumed from a shallow grave where soldiers buried him when he died in military custody a month earlier. Some 400 family, friends and supporters of the journalist, Par Gyi, gathered early in evening at the Yeway Cemetery, on the outskirts of Yangon. The crowd chanted slogans and sang protest songs during the ceremony.
Some of them held signs protesting the death of the journalist, who died under mysterious circumstances on Oct. 4.
“Does the military have a license to kill?” asked one sign. “All the people are Par Gyi,”” said another.
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, and Nobel laureate, sent flowers to the funeral. Tin Oo, a senior member of the NLD, attended the funeral and spoke to Than Dar, the wife of Par Gyi, calling for justice for the late journalist.
Nyan Zaw, a member of Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, which is investigating the death, told Reuters that the examination team would send an autopsy report to the Ministry of Health today. The investigation continued, he said.
After the body was exhumed on Wednesday, witnesses began to express concern that Par Gyi was tortured before he was shot.
Robert San Aung, a lawyer for the family who was allowed to examine the body, said it bore several bullet wounds.
“I saw gun shot wounds to the chest, jaw and head,” he said. “I saw bruise marks on both legs that looked like something had rolled over his legs and thighs. This was not a normal death. This was murder.”
Par Gyi was arrested on Sept. 30 after completing a photo assignment on clashes between the military and the rebel Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) in the east, the Myanmar-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has said.
The AAPP has disputed statement by the military that said Par Gyi was shot when he tried to steal a gun from a soldier and escape after being detained because he was an information officer for an obscure insurgent group called the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization.
Than Dar, a prominent women’s activist, has denied her husband was a part of any military organization. She says she suspects he died while being tortured, leading the military to bury his body in secret. She also says the DKBA has denied Par Gyi was connected to any rebel military organization.
Than Dar searched for her missing husband for several weeks after he disappeared in late September and made enquiries with the Myanmar Army, which failed to give a response. The Army didn’t announce his death until 19 days after he died.
The incident comes as Myanmar’s government is preparing to host U.S. President Barack Obama at a summit next week. The U.S. State Department has called for a transparent investigation into Par Gyi’s death.
Two independent reports regarding alleged military abuses also came out this week, putting more pressure on the Myanmar government.
An investigation by the Harvard Law School released a report on Friday saying that troops commanded by Myanmar’s interior minister and two other senior officials tortured and killed civilians over six years ago while fighting an ethnic rebellion.
The report did not accuse the officers of ordering troops to commit abuses, but said they took place because of long-standing policies that sanctioned “the direct targeting of civilians and were designed to effect large-scale displacement.”
On Thursday, Fortify Rights, an organization that documents human rights violations in Southeast Asia, said the Myanmar army has targeted, attacked, and killed civilians in Kachin State and northern Shan State. It called on the government to stop such attacks and hold perpetrators accountable.
(This story was refiled to fix headline)
Additional reporting by Aye Myint Win and Aung Hla Tun in YANGON