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Union Seal Law charge is latest legal battle for ex-child soldier, supporters

Aung Ko Htwe, a former child soldier and defendant in a criminal suit being brought by the military, arrives at the Dagon Seikkan Township Court for his first hearing in August 2017. (Photo: Pyae Pyae)

The legal troubles for a former child soldier already convicted of public incitement continued to unfold at a Yangon court on Tuesday and also appear to have ensnared three others, with all four accused of having desecrated the Union seal.

At a hearing on Tuesday, Dagon Seikkan Township Court Judge Chit Ko Ko said police had issued arrest warrants for the other three people who, along with the former child soldier Aung Ko Htwe, allegedly violated the Union Seal Act. The offence is said to have occurred during a previous hearing in January when, in an act of protest, they stomped on a copy of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

The 2010 Union Seal Act includes a provision against desecration of the Union seal and under section 7 of the law, Aung Ko Htwe and his three supporters face a maximum sentence of three years in prison if found guilty.

The same court late last month sentenced 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.

The prosecution had argued that an interview the defendant gave to Radio Free Asia’s Burmese-language service in August contravened section 505(b), which 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.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the prominent lawyer Robert San Aung was present and said he would represent Aung Ko Htwe in future court proceedings.

Arguments for the prosecution under the Union Seal Law charges will proceed at the next hearing regardless of whether the other defendants have been detained, he said.

“If the police cannot arrest them, the court will declare them fugitives,” he said.

Aung Ko Htwe, 27, was arrested on 18 August, about one week after his interview was published by Radio Free Asia. He was forcibly recruited into the army when he was 14 years old.

The Dagon Seikkan Township Court has scheduled the next hearing for 24 April.