The elder sister of jailed Myanmar former child soldier Aung Ko Htway surrendered to a Yangon courthouse Wednesday morning after spending 18 months in hiding to face defamation charges by police for staging a public protest in 2018 that called for her brother’s release.
Police raided the family’s home on Tuesday night, carrying an arrest warrant and hoping to nab Nay Zar Htun, her younger sister Theinggi told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Last night the police came in full force, and my sister was not home,” she said. “There were many patrol cars and police motorcycles, and they gave such a big scare to the neighbors.”
“They already had come to our house before, and there were just four or five of them at that time,” she said. “We told them we didn’t know about the arrest warrant and that we would send her [to court] the next day.”
Before entering North Dagon Seikkan township courthouse, Nay Zar Htun told RFA that the arrests of her and her brother are human rights violations.
“I want to tell [Myanmar] President Win Myint [about it],” she said. “My young brother was forced into the military at the age of 13 and lost his childhood years. And then, he was given the highest punishment and is still facing more charges.”
“And now I, who am trying to help my brother, am also under arrest,” she said. “This is a violation of human rights. We want protection from the law.”
Aung Ko Htway, 28, was sentenced to two years of hard labor in March 2018 for provoking public incitement under Section 505(b) of the country’s Penal Code after he described his abduction and forced military service as a minor in an interview with RFA.
He was abducted by a Myanmar Army sergeant in 2005 and forced to serve as a soldier for nearly a decade.
Aung Ko Htway previously said that he had been arrested and jailed because the military feared him speaking out about its injustices and human rights violations.
In June 2018, he appeared in a Yangon court for a hearing on charges of desecrating Myanmar’s seal when he trampled on a copy of the military-drafted 2008 constitution in a sign of protest during a hearing in January of that year, though he ultimately was not convicted.
'Intent to cause a disruption'
Police filed charges against Nay Zar Htun and five others for disrupting one of her brother’s hearings by staging a protest calling for his release.
Two of the protesters received prison terms, and the three others are facing trial, with one of them still on the run.
“They came into the courtroom with the intent to cause a disruption, screaming and yelling and showing disrespect to the judge,” police commander Maung Maung told RFA.
“Action will be taken against anyone who yells out in court, either by the police or by the township administrator,” he added.
Nay Zar Htun is being held in Insein Prison on the outskirts of Yangon. Her hearing is scheduled for June 25.
Both the Myanmar military and some of the country’s ethnic armed groups have recruited and used child soldiers.
Soldiers and recruiters often snatch children under the pretext that they have committed a minor or nonexistent offense and tell them that they must serve in the army or go to jail. Others have voluntarily joined military organizations because their families are poor.
UNICEF reported in March that the Myanmar military has released nearly 960 children and young people since 2012 when the country signed a joint action plan with the United Nations to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.