March 7, 2017
Whenever I met with Ko Ni, whether seated in his office, with its flickering electricity and precarious piles of law books, or sipping tea in the moldering headquarters of Myanmar’s then-opposition political party, the image that came to mind was that of Atticus Finch—though an Atticus wearing a Burmese sarong. With his salt-and-pepper hair and upright bearing, Ko Ni was the consummate honorable lawyer. He persevered for decades as one of Myanmar’s top constitutional experts despite living under the rule of a military junta with little respect for judicial process. Every day, he woke up and prepared to throw himself, pro bono, into hopeless cases. One day in his office, I saw a stack of papers at the foot of his desk. On top was a copy of the Bulgarian Constitution. You never know, he said, when knowledge of such a document might prove useful.
On January 29th, Ko Ni, sixty-three years old, was assassinated at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. He had just returned from a democracy conference in Indonesia and was waiting for a taxi curbside, while holding his young grandson, when a gunman in sandals sauntered up and pumped a bullet into Ko Ni’s head at close range. Nay Win, a taxi driver who tried to chase down the assassin, was also shot to death. (Ko Ni’s grandson, who had come with relatives to greet his grandfather, tumbled out of the lawyer’s arms but was unhurt.)