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Ex-child soldier gets two years in prison for telling of forced conscription

Former child soldier Aung Ko Htwe is carried from the courtroom following his sentencing on Wednesday. (Photo: DVB)

A Yangon court on Wednesday sentenced the former child soldier Aung Ko Htwe to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour under section 505(b) of Burma’s Penal Code, a provision broadly covering public incitement.

Judge Chit Ko Ko of the Dagon Seikkan Township Court ruled in favour of the prosecution, which argued that an interview the defendant gave to Radio Free Asia’s Burmese-language service in August contravened section 505(b). The Penal Code provision prohibits statements made “with intent to cause, or which [are] likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against public tranquility.”

Aung Ko Htwe’s interview with the news outlet focused on his recounting of forced conscription into the Burma Army as a minor. He was given the maximum sentence allowable under 505(b).

The defendant was arrested on 18 August, about one week after his interview was published by Radio Free Asia.

The prosecution gave its final argument in the case on 20 March, in remarks that were not rebutted by Aung Ko Htwe, who has for weeks refused to cooperate in the case brought against him. His intransigence earned him a separate contempt of court conviction on 14 February, with the judge handing down a six-month sentence on that charge.

Following Wednesday’s verdict, the judge told the court that Aung Ko Htwe’s legal woes would continue as Police Major Maung Maung from the Dagon Seikkan Township police station had filed an additional lawsuit against the defendant under section 7 of the Union Seal Law.

A staffer for the Dagon Seikkan Township Court told journalists that Aung Ko Htwe, in an act of protest, had stepped on a copy of the 2008 Constitution in the courthouse during a hearing in January. The plaintiff is alleging that in doing so, the defendant violated the 2010 Union Seal Act, which includes a provision against desecration of the Union seal. Under section 7 of the law, Aung Ko Htwe faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison if found guilty.

Lawyer Robert San Aung told DVB on Wednesday that the new charge lacked merit.

“In stepping on the Constitution, it cannot be said that Aung Ko Htwe destroyed the Union seal,” he said.

Aung Ko Htwe told reporters after his sentencing that the prosecution and judge were fundamentally errant in pursuing a case under section 505(b).

“The military is not the government or the state. So, the court should not have charged me in accordance with section 505[b],” he said.

Aung Ko Htwe is due to appear in court again to answer for the Union seal charge on 10 April.