Myanmar girl testifies in ‘nursery rape case’ that sparked anger

Yangon, Myanmar – A three-year-old girl whose alleged rape sparked nationwide protests in Myanmar has told a court via video link that it was two teenage brothers who assaulted her, and not the man currently on trial.

The girl, who campaigners have given the pseudonym Victoria, was two years and 11 months old when she was attacked at her pre-school in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, on May 16.

Her testimony on Wednesday corroborates suspicions voiced by campaigners that 29-year-old Aung Kyaw Myo, the school supervisor’s driver, is being scapegoated. 

He was arrested two weeks after the attack but released without charge after police found his DNA did not match samples taken from the toddler’s clothing.

Then, amid growing public outrage at their failure to catch a suspect, police rearrested Aung Kyaw Myo in early July and charged him with the rape of a minor, leading to protests by campaigners who believed the real culprit was still at large.

Defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told Al Jazeera he was “more and more confident as the trial goes on” that his client would be acquitted.

At a hearing on August 15, the court watched a pre-recorded video of the girl identifying the brothers as her attackers, and saying that she did not recognise a photo of Aung Kyaw Myo.

The two brothers have not been arrested.

Police spokesman Myo Thu Soe told Al Jazeera he was unable to talk about the case and directed questions to Police Colonel Min Han, who also said he was unable to discuss the case.

According to Khin Maung Zaw, police said they took DNA samples from the brothers but then added, without elaborating, that the samples were not sufficient. “We are not satisfied with that answer,” he said.

The defence plans to cross-examine a Criminal Investigations Department official about the DNA evidence at a hearing next month.

Mistrust in authorities 

The case has exposed deep-seated mistrust in Myanmar’s dysfunctional criminal justice system.

The country’s police are still controlled by the military, which ruled by force for decades before allowing a largely free election and ceding some power to a mostly-civilian government in 2015. The judiciary is also widely seen as beholden to the military and compromised by rampant corruption.

Authorities sparked further anger in June by arresting Win Ko Ko Thein, a former government official who started a social media campaign calling for justice in the case.

Win Ko Ko Thein is out on bail after being charged under an online defamation law that could see him jailed for five years. Police said he wrote posts about the case “that could tarnish the reputation of Myanmar”.

The girl’s mother has told the court that a teacher at the school named Hnin Nu should be investigated for attempting to conceal evidence of the rape.

The mother accused Hnin Nu of helping to wash the girl after the attack, a prosecutor told local media in July. Her whereabouts are unknown and there is speculation that she has fled in fear of arrest, Khin Maung Zaw said.

Groups including the Independent Lawyers Association of Myanmar have said they are seeking help from organisations abroad to re-examine the DNA evidence in the case.

“People do not trust the Central Investigation Department when it comes to DNA,” said Zar Li Aye, a legal expert and criminal defence lawyer. “Not just in rape cases but also in drug cases.”

She added that sexual assaults are severely under-reported in Myanmar. “Even some victims’ family members don’t want to report because they’re worried about being disgraced in their communities. Police are not creating safe spaces for victims to report and there is no clear process for them.”

Last year, police recorded just 1,528 cases, according to reports, in a country with a population of 52 million.

Two-thirds of those cases involved child victims – though this could indicate that such cases are more likely to be reported to or accepted by police, rather than that they are more prevalent.

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