RFA – Radio Free Asia (Autor)
Former Myanmar child soldier Aung Ko Htway walked out of prison on Friday after serving his full two-year term for provoking public incitement for describing his abduction a forced military service in an interview with RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“I just want to say I have no special feeling for my release today because the freedom of speech was severely restricted in our country,” he said after his release from Insein prison in the commercial capital Yangon.
He used the opportunity to call for the amendment of the military-drafted Constitution, greater freedom of speech and an end to military offensives in Northern Shan State.
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.
“I am very happy. I could barely sleep last night,” said one of his elder sisters, Theingi.
“The authorities said he will be released. But his name was never included on amnesty lists. Now, they release him after he served the full prison term,” she told RFA.
Aung Ko Htway’s lawyer Robert San Aung said he welcomed the release with the caveat that he still has a hearing in December over charges filed by the local government in Yangon.
“Aung Ko Htway needs to pay extra care every step he takes as he tries to start a new life outside of prison,” he told RFA.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP) said that despite Aung Ko Htway’s release, the country still held many political prisoners and they should all be released immediately.
“Daw Aung San Su Kyi said having a single political prisoner is already too much,” said Aung Myo Kyaw of the AAPP.
“Now, there are so many political prisoners behind bars. They all should be released immediately. Those who are facing trial for charges related to politics should be pardoned,” he said.
According to AAPP’s tally, Myanmar has 50 political prisoners serving jail sentences, 179 awaiting trial inside prison and 401 awaiting trial outside prison.
Meanwhile, Nay Zar Tun, another older sister of Aung Ko Htwe who has extensively campaigned for the release of her brother, remains in jail facing two charges for defamation against the state and inciting riots.
Nay Zar Tun surrendered to a Yangon courthouse in June 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 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.
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 Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.
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