Disabled community split over high-profile rape allegation

The chairperson of the Myanmar Federation of Persons with Disabilities is accused of raping a blind masseuse under his care, but not everyone is demanding justice.


THE CHAIRPERSON of the Myanmar Federation of Persons with Disabilities, U Aung Ko Myint, is being investigated under allegations that he repeatedly raped a blind masseuse under his care, police confirmed on November 14.

The case has divided members of the disabled community over whether to pursue justice for the alleged crime through the courts, with some appearing to advocate reaching a quiet settlement instead. Meanwhile, those demanding justice have complained about the slow progress of the official investigation and a lack of communication from police.

The alleged victim, who is also intellectually disabled, worked for the Myanmar National Association of the Blind in Yangon, which Aung Ko Myint helped to establish in 1996.

The 44-year-old Aung Ko Myint, who is also blind, is a prominent member of the disabled community in Myanmar. Besides chairing the MFPWD he is also second vice chairman of the National Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, formed in 2015. The Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Dr Win Myat Aye, is also a vice chairman of the committee.

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Aung Ko Myint was temporarily suspended from his positions with the MPFWD and the national committee on October 9.

Frontier repeatedly sought comment from Aung Ko Myint but his phone was turned off each time. The MPFWD office told Frontier on November 13 that they did not know his whereabouts.

Police confirmed that the uncle of the alleged victim, U Mar Ku, filed a report with Ahlone Township police on October 10 under Section 13 of the Monogamy Law, which concerns bigamy. It was unclear why this section was chosen over others, such as Section 9, which proscribes extramarital affairs. Aung Ko Myint is married, with no children.

Mar Ku told Frontier on November 13 that he has yet to hear back from the police.

Ahlone Township Police Deputy Inspector Kyaw Zin Htoon told Frontier on November 14 that the investigation would be complete within two weeks.

Mar Ku said his niece had worked at a massage parlour operated by the MNAB in Ahlone Township since 2009.

In a letter sent to the MFPWD on October 8, Mar Ku alleged that his niece was raped three times by Aung Ko Myint between January and June this year.

The letter alleges that the first incident occurred one evening when she was working alone at the massage parlour, after which Aung Ko Myint had taken her to his home.

The second alleged incident occurred on April 7 after Mar Ku’s niece had given a massage at a customer’s home in Sanchaung Township. According to the letter, Aung Ko Myint contacted Mar Ku’s niece and asked to meet. He sent a car that took her to a hostel where he was waiting and raped her again, Mar Ku alleged.

In May, the woman told Aung Ko Myo she had stopped menstruating and one Sunday in June he went to the massage parlour, where she was alone, and raped her again, the letter alleged.

He later gave her 10 packs of a traditional medicine commonly used as a painkiller but which, in large doses, is sometimes used to induce abortions; and he forced her to take it all at once, the letter alleged.

The woman became weak, and could not eat or sleep. When she told Aung Ko Myint she was unwell, she was sent to Asia Royal Hospital, a large private hospital in Sanchaung Township. According to Mar Ku’s letter, her prescription book was kept by Aung Ko Myint.

The woman’s recovery was slow and painful. She contacted a friend in Shan State, who in turn alerted Mar Ku’s wife, who helped to arrange for the woman to be admitted to Yangon’s Central Women’s Hospital.

The woman is recovering under the care of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement at an undisclosed location in Yangon and is being treated for trauma and other health complications.

In recent weeks, the woman’s case has been taken up by Naw Zar Phyu Khant, administrator and finance coordinator at iSchool-Myanmar, an NGO that conducts empowerment education, including for people with disabilities.

Zar Phyu Khant, who has researched sexual offences and other crimes against the disabled, said she first contacted the police in late October and was told it would take a month to complete the investigation into the case.

When the alleged victim was at the police station she was terrified to talk about what happened to her because Aung Ko Myint “is her boss and the chairman of the blind association”, Zar Phyu Khant said.

“The accused is a member of a national committee, which gives him a status like that of a government servant. We think that is why the progress on this case is slow,” she said.

She said the case had created a split in the disabled community between blind people who supported Aung Ko Myint and wanted the matter handled internally, and other groups representing the disabled who wanted the truth to be revealed.

Zar Phyu Khant said most members of the blind community regarded the case as a move to “throw Aung Ko Myint down”.

A meeting called by the MFPWD at the School for the Blind in Kyimyindaing Township on November 7 concluded with a majority vote in favour of a proposal to provide “assistance” to both the woman and to Aung Ko Myint, in what appeared to some as an attempt to reach a quiet settlement.

Mar Ku, who was at the meeting but did not speak, told Frontier it was not clear what assistance would be provided to both parties. He added that, despite the majority vote, the meeting revealed divisions.

“There are two views on this,” Mar Ku said. “Some people want to know the truth and some want to support the accused instead of revealing the truth; that is why I did not speak at that meeting.”

“I want to handle it the right way and I want justice.”

Mar Ku said on November 9 that if the police failed to respond within the month, he would take the case directly to court.

Also at the November 7 meeting was U Thein Han Thu, who works at the Integrated Community Development Foundation, a non-profit group that has advocated for disability rights. He declined to join the committee formed to “assist” both parties because he opposed the idea.

“I don’t know why they are trying to help both. That is unreasonable,” Han Thu told Frontier.

Relatives and supporters of the alleged victim are not the only ones frustrated at the slow pace of the police investigation.

Naw Tha Wah, director of women’s development at the Department of Social Welfare, said she was also having difficulty getting information from the police.

“That’s not right and the investigation should not take a month,” she said.

She said she was worried about impunity and believed the case needed to go directly to court because it seemed that the police investigation was not making progress.

Tha Wah added that the woman had been traumatised by her experience but was recovering.

Editor’s note, December 11: This article has been amended to remove some identifying information about the victim and her family.

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