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Final arguments due in incitement case against former child soldier

Aung Ko Htwe, the defendant, is forcibly pulled from a police holding vehicle for his hearing on Tuesday. (Photo: DVB)

The long-running trial of a former child soldier charged with public incitement looks to be nearing an end as a judge in Yangon announced at a hearing on Tuesday that final arguments in the case will be heard on 20 March.

The defendant Aung Ko Htwe was charged under section 505(b) of the Penal Code for allegedly inciting the public after telling his story of forced conscription to the news outlet Radio Free Asia. He was arrested on 18 August, about a week after his interview with RFA was published.

The 505(b) 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 faces up to two years in prison if convicted of that offence.

In late January, he ceased cooperation in the case, withdrawing a list of witnesses due to testify in his defence and dropping his lawyers. Calling the trial a sham and the presiding magistrate a “cow judge,” he was hit with an additional contempt of court charge last month.

His rejection of the court proceedings continued on Tuesday.

“The judge doesn’t follow the laws. He is just following the orders of the military. There is no rule of law in our country,” he shouted as he emerged from the courtroom in Dagon Seikkan Township on Tuesday.

It is not clear how next week’s hearing will play out, given the defendant’s ongoing boycott of the court proceedings and the absence of any legal representation on his behalf.

There was a heavy police presence at Tuesday’s hearing and court staffers initially blocked members of the media from entering the courthouse. Facing complaints from journalists — who are regularly allowed to cover such trials — the staffers eventually relented and allowed access.

“The district courts and regional-level courts have allowed the journalists. We know that we have to fill out the form to cover the case and to listen in the courtroom without recording,” said reporter Chan Thar from The Myanmar Times.