A court in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon today handed a former child soldier a prison term of two years at hard labor following his conviction for describing his abduction and forced military service in an interview last year with RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Aung Ko Htway, 27, who spent nearly a decade as a child soldier, was sentenced under Section 505(b) of the country’s Penal Code, pertaining to making, publishing, or circulating information that may cause public fear or alarm and incite people to commit offenses against the state or disturb public tranquility.
Speaking to reporters outside the court following his sentencing, Aung Ko Htwe assailed his conviction.
“My rights have been violated. We have no rule of law in this country,” he said as he was taken away in shackles by police.
A new charge against Aung Ko Htway alleging desecration of Myanmar’s Union Seal has now been filed following an act of protest in which the former child soldier stepped on a copy of Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution during a previous court hearing.
Questioned by reporters after the trial, Police Major Maung Maung of the Dagon Seikkan township police station, who filed the additional charge, struck a female reporter and the defendant’s sister and ran away, sources said.
“We didn’t understand this further charge against my brother, and asked for an explanation from the judge, who told us to direct our questions to Police Major Maung Maung,” Aung Ko Htway’s sister Aye Zar Win said.
“But not only did [Maung Maung] refuse to answer us, he also hit me, and I fell down,” Aye Zar Win said, adding, “I am going to sue him.”
Aung Zaw Oo, a supporter of the defendant and also present at the scene, confirmed the woman’s account.
“When reporters tried to interview the police major, he aggressively tried to avoid the interview and ran away after hitting a female reporter and Aung Ko Htway’s sister. I saw this with my own eyes,” he said.
Abducted at 14
Aung Ko Htway was abducted by a Myanmar army sergeant in 2005 when he was 14 years old and later imprisoned after he and two others escaped and robbed the owner of a motorcycle. One of the other boys choked the man to death, though Aung Ko Htway later said he did not participate in the murder.
Aung Ko Htway served seven months at a prison camp in Lashio, the largest town in Myanmar’s northern Shan state, where he was shackled and fed a mixture of rice and sand until he agreed to sign a confession.
Originally sentenced to death, Aung Ko Htway later had his sentence reduced twice under presidential amnesties. He was finally released on July 15, 2017, and returned home where he started a
business with his sister’s help selling cotton clothing in Kalawae village in Yangon region’s Thanlyin township.
Interviewed about his experiences by RFA in August 2017, he was arrested about a week after his story aired.
The Myanmar army has discharged 849 children and young people from its ranks since 2012, when the country signed an agreement with the United Nations to stop recruiting children under 18.
The U.N., however, continues to list the Myanmar military and seven ethnic armed groups on its blacklist of organizations around the world that recruit and use child soldiers.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.