Ko Tun Myint Win, a peasant from Aung Thabyae village in the Patheingyi township, Mandalay Region, died in police custody on 5 May. The authorities claimed that he died due to a high fever and alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and said the family members had to request a medical record of the autopsy from them as well.
The villagers argued Ko Tun Myint Win was in a healthy condition before his detainment and that he was not an alcoholic. He was arrested and interrogated in the police station on 2 May. Then he was sent to the Oh-boe prison on 3 May. He had to receive medical treatment at the prison hospital on 4 May and the family members were informed he had passed away on 5 May. The forensic doctor from the Mandalay Regional Hospital made the operation on the corpse to find the cause of death.
The deceased’s brother, Sayadaw U Wimala and the villagers saw the body before the autopsy. There were severe bruises and cuts around the head, neck, chest, hands and legs of his younger brother. Blood was oozing out of his ears and noses. The authorities did not allow U Wimala and the villagers to take photos of the body. After the dissection of the corpse, the forensic doctor has not yet stated or shown any findings of the cause of death.
A doctor from one clinic remarked that Ko Tun Myint Win might have had a cerebral haemorrhage due to severe trauma to his head, since there were severe bruises around the head and blood coming out of the ears; and he might have had high pyrexia, since there were cuts around his chest and hands that could have led to infection and fever, but high pyrexia could not be the main cause of death.
He continued that the sharp cut wounds seem to be small at a superficial glance, but could have penetrated deeply through the body and caused severe damage to the internal organs. Thus, he suggested the forensic doctor needs to show the findings and photos of the dissection of the corpse correctly and transparently. He added that a responsible doctor has to take photos of every vital organ after the dissection of the corpse according to the rules and procedures of the forensic medicine department.
He also explained that it is very rare to die from alcohol withdrawal syndrome: even an alcoholic person has to go through the stages of alcohol withdrawal: insomnia, sweating, high blood pressure, palpitations and hallucinations, in the worst case he could have experienced seizures. But an alcoholic can only actually die from asphyxiation due to the contents of the stomach coming up and entering the respiratory tract during a seizure. This is very rare.
Family members and the villagers believe Ko Tun Myint Win passed away due to the inhumane and brutal torture by the police and the prison authorities during the interrogation process. Some villagers accuse them of taking revenge, since his mother had participated in the protest and had been charged on several counts in the previous year, but she has avoided facing judiciary trial since she has no faith in state bodies, including the judiciary. She was one of the protesters against the coal-fired cement factory owned by the Anhui Conch Company of the Anhi Provisional Government in China; and the Myint Investment Company owned by their cronies in Myanmar. But the villagers said Ko Tun Myint Win did not participate in the protest, that he was a worker in the cement factory at one time and later resigned from work when conflicts broke out between his fellow villagers and the company.
The Regional Minister Dr. Zaw Myint Maung has allowed the company to start building its construction site, although the villagers nearby have been protesting against it. The farmlands and roads of the villagers have been grabbed by force; the communal pasture, forest, wells and springs have been destroyed by the company; and the construction site is so close to the Aung Thabyae village that only a fence and village road seperate them. The villagers are worried about the future consequences of the coal-fired cement plant being built, because it could have severe environmental and health impacts on the next generation.
Whenever the villagers engage in peaceful protest against the cement factory, they are charged on multiple counts and detained in prison by the authorities. On 15 May, around 300 police fired rubber bullets at close range and used teargas on the protesters. Around 17 people were injured and some villagers and a journalist were arrested.
The police have surrounded the Aung Thabyae village and are protecting the cement factory. Around 50 villagers are charged on several counts. Some homes in the village have been raided by the police, including the civilians that are supposed to be hired by the company. The villagers who are relatives of the leaders of the protest were arrested as well.
The 10th-grade student, Ko Thu Wai, who came back home after buying stationery for school, was arrested by the police since he is the son of U Shwe Ohn, one of the leading people in the protest. Another son, Ko Min Thein, was arrested at his home by the police. He has been tortured as well and his body is covered with bruises and inflammation; and his eyes are red due the torture inflicted by the police and the prison authorities, according to the relatives who met him.
Since the police are arresting villagers with impunity, no one dares to come out of the village. Many children in the village could not go to school and many parents are afraid to plough their fields. Most of the villagers are facing shortages of food and are fearful for their lives. But the Union Government and Regional Minister still remain silent on that matter.
This brutal murder by the state has not gone unnoticed by the international workers’ movement. We demand justice for Ko Tun Myint Win, and for every worker and peasant victimised by capitalism and its cronies in government. Solidarity!