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Activist, Wife: Slain Journalist's Body Shows Signs of Torture

Journalists offer candles at Sule pagoda to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crime against Journalists in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov 2, 2014.
Journalists offer candles at Sule pagoda to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crime against Journalists in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov 2, 2014.

Myanmar authorities exhumed the body on Wednesday of a journalist killed in military custody, and a rights activist and the slain journalist's wife said the body bore what they thought were marks of torture.

Freelance journalist Par Gyi was detained by the army on Sept. 30 while photographing clashes between the military and the rebel Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA). The Myanmar-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said he was killed on Oct. 4.

The AAPP has disputed a statement by the military that Par Gyi was shot when he tried to steal a gun from a soldier and escape after being detained because he was a member of an ethnic Karen rebel organization.

Investigation into death

President Thein Sein last week responded to calls by rights groups and the United States government and ordered Myanmar's National Human Rights Commission to carry out an investigation into Par Gyi's death.

Human rights activist Nay Myo Zin said about 100 people, including military and police officers, watched as the body was exhumed in Kyaikmayaw township, in eastern Mon state near the frontier with Thailand.

“We didn't see any gunshot wound on the lower part of the body, but the head was found full of cracks and wounds, with broken teeth and jaws,” he said, suggesting the injuries looked more like those sustained from torture than someone who was shot while running away, as the military have said.

Than Dar, Par Gyi's wife, said the body, which was exhumed Wednesday, had a broken skull, broken jaw and two penetration marks on the chest.

"I could not see the gunshot wound, but his face was not immediately recognizable because his jaws and tooth were broken and smashed which were indicative of torture," Than Dar told The Associated Press.

A team of doctors has been assigned to carry out a post-mortem, and the commission will begin interviewing people as part of its investigation, said Nyan Zaw, a member of the commission who witnessed the exhumation.

It was not immediately known when the results of the post-mortem would be available.

The incident comes at a sensitive time for Myanmar, also known as Burma, as the government prepares to host U.S. President Barack Obama at a regional summit in a week.

Transparency urged

The U.S. State Department has called for a transparent investigation into the death of Par Gyi, a former democracy activist who once worked as a bodyguard for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, Suu Kyi said many people will be watching to see if the investigation is carried out according to the law.

The military claimed Par Gyi was an information officer for an obscure insurgent group called the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization.

Than Dar said the DKBA has issued a statement denying he was connected to any rebel military organization.

Various rebel groups have battled Myanmar's central government since shortly after independence from Britain in 1948.

While the reformist civilian-led government has struck cease-fires with almost all factions, clashes often flare up, undermining the government's goal of signing a national cease-fire agreement before next year's elections.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the military and media are increasingly at loggerheads over the reporting of security-related information perceived as sensitive, the AP reported.

Four journalists and the chief executive officer of the local Unity newspaper have been sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor this year for reporting on a secretive military installation in the country's central Magwe Division. Their sentences were later reduced to seven years each.

Some material for this report came from AP.

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