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Judge sentences former child soldier to 6 months in prison for contempt of court

Former child soldier Aung Ko Htwe lifts his cuffed hands outside the courthouse in Yangon's Dagon Seikkan Township on Wednesday. (Photo: DVB)

A former child soldier charged with public incitement was sentenced to six months in prison for an additional contempt of court charge at a hearing on Wednesday, as his trial over the initial alleged transgression continued.

The defendant Aung Ko Htwe, who was detained on 18 August, was first charged under section 505(b) of the Penal Code after he gave an interview to Radio Free Asia (RFA) recounting his experiences as a minor conscripted into the military.

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.

But during Wednesday’s hearing at the Dagon Seikkan Township courthouse in Yangon, he was slapped with an additional contempt of court charge. At a previous hearing on 31 January, Aung Ko Htwe called the presiding judge, Chit Ko Ko, a “cow judge” — in an apparent attack on the magistrate’s intelligence — for allowing the prosecution against him to move forward.

“I have no faith in the judiciary system of Myanmar,” Aung Ko Htwe said as he appeared before the court on Wednesday. “I talked to media about how unfairly I was treated as a child soldier. I was charged for that. And now this time, I was charged with contempt of court for saying that the prosecution was unfair.”

Ye Zaw, a brother-in-law of Aung Ko Htwe, confirmed Wednesday’s contempt of court sentencing, under section 228 of the Penal Code.

The case has garnered attention both for the nature of the initial criminal complaint brought against the former child soldier and more recently his declaration that he would be “boycotting” further court proceedings. Video circulating on social media appears to show the manifestation of that boycott as police are seen carrying the handcuffed and prostrate defendant from a detention vehicle to the courthouse on Wednesday as he shouts repeatedly, “No violence!”

In addition, Aung Ko Htwe late last month rescinded his lawyers’ power of attorney privileges, leaving him without a defence team.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the defendant refused to respond to questions posed by the prosecution regarding the 505(b) charge being brought against him, and as a result the judge postponed further trial proceedings to 27 February.

Aung Ko Htwe told reporters after the hearing that he would withdraw a list of witnesses that were lined up to testify for the defence ahead of the next hearing — a roster that included Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, Burma’s commander-in-chief.

Recently, two supporters of Aung Ko Htwe were detained and also charged under section 505(b) of the Penal Code. The defendant’s sister and another four people have had warrants issued for their arrest as well, and are being sought by law enforcement authorities in connection with activities in support of Aung Ko Htwe.

With reporting by Ei Ma Ma Mon and Ye Mon