A Myanmar court on Monday sentenced a former rights lawyer and political prisoner to two years in prison with hard labor on defamation-related charges for shoe-throwing incidents, a court official said.
Pyigyitagon Township Court in central Myanmar’s Mandalay handed the maximum punishment to Zaw Win, who was charged under Section 505(b) of the country’s Penal Code in March 2018 for committing an offense against the state, harming the reputation of the state, and disrupting public tranquility.
Kyaw Soe, the township’s deputy general administrator, filed the case against Zaw Win, citing infractions under four sections of the Penal Code, after he twice threw shoes at a sign outside the courthouse after a judge issued a decision with which he did not agree,
Zaw Win also reportedly threw his shoe at the judge during one of his court hearings.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Zaw Win told the media the country’s judicial system is distant from its people.
“They will not be lawful. They will not be just,” he said.
“Who is controlling the judicial system? It is the ruling government,” he added.
Despite the ruling, Zaw Win said he would not file an appeal of the verdict in district court.
Aung Kyaw Oo, the court’s information officer, said Zaw Win failed to defend himself properly during the trial.
“He criticized the performance of both the state counselor and Mandalay region’s chief minster as ‘not serious,’” he said, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi and Zaw Myint Maung.
“You can see it in the verdict statement,” he added.
Sources close to the court said that during the case hearings, Zaw Win made a number of statements, such as he had thrown his shoe at the judge because he deserved it, even though he wanted to lob a bomb if he had had one.
Zaw Win also reportedly said that Myanmar’s judicial system lacked proper governance and was in chaos and that he intended to make it known to the country's leaders. He also said that the leaders themselves were wasting government revenue and should resign if they could not improve their performance.
‘Tragic for the democratic cause’
Political activist Thein Aung Myint denounced the court’s ruling, saying it contradicted the fact that the charges against Zaw Win occurred under the civilian-led government’s administration.
“It is unacceptable that the defendant was charged by an order from Mandalay region’s chief minister Zaw Myint Maung, as it is stated in the court hearing,” he said.
“The very government we have voted for is now giving sentences like this,” he said. “This is very tragic for the democratic cause.”
Zaw Win has been prosecuted on three charges at Pyigyitagon Township Court and is facing trials on two other charges, including filing improper medical documents.
He is being detained in Mandalay’s Obo Prison, while the court hears testimony by witnesses for the plaintiff on the other charges.
Rights groups and activists have blasted the administration of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi for allowing government and judicial officials, Buddhist monks, and military officers to file an increasing number of defamation suits under vaguely worded laws in attempts to silence their critics.
Reported by Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.