A detained former child soldier who appeared in a Yangon court on Tuesday to face charges for desecrating Myanmar's seal after he stomped on a copy of the country's constitution during a previous hearing called on the national military to be transparent about its efforts to recruit children into its ranks.
Aung Ko Htway, 27, is serving two years of hard labor after he was convicted in late March for public incitement under Section 505(b) of the country’s Penal Code for describing his abduction and forced military service as a minor in an interview last year with RFA’s Myanmar Service.
On Tuesday, he appeared at Dagon Seikkan Township Court in Yangon for a hearing on the desecration charges stemming from an incident in January when he and three others trampled on a copy of the military-drafted 2008 constitution in a sign of protest. They each face a maximum sentence of three years in prison if found guilty.
“The military hasn’t shown transparency in revealing its child soldier recruitment,” Aung Ko Htway told the court. “The announcements and statements [the military has made] are not transparent.”
“The military has announced that 877 child soldiers have been returned to their parents, but they were actually returned because the parents reported the cases to UNICEF and the ILO,” he said referring to the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Labor Organization.
“I would like to ask the military to declare its child soldier recruitment with transparency,” Aung Ko Htway said. “I would like to ask the military commander-in-chief not to use child soldiers in battle and [tell him] that they are engaging in warfare based on hatred [against ethnic-minority nationals].”
Aung Ko Htway also said that he had been arrested and jailed because the military fears him speaking out about its injustices and human rights violations.
New court request
Robert San Aung, a prominent Myanmar attorney who is defending Aung Ko Htway, asked the judge on Tuesday to change the court location to Mingala Taung Nyunt Court or Tamwe Court for his client’s current charge.
The judge will issue a decision on June 26, Robert San Aug said.
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 had strangled the man, though Aung Ko Htway maintains that he did not participate in the murder.
He 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.
Though Aung Ko Htway was originally sentenced to death, his sentence was 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.
UNICEF reported in June 2017 that the Myanmar military had released 849 children and young people since 2012 when it signed an action plan with the U.N. Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children to end the use of child soldiers.
Though the army had taken significant steps to reduce child recruitment, it had yet “to sustainably root it out,” UNICEF said at the time.
Seven of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups also use child soldiers, according to another 2017 U.N. report.
Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.