A former child soldier charged with public incitement told a Yangon court on Wednesday that he would boycott future trial proceedings, saying he no longer had faith in the judicial system’s ability to render a fair verdict.
The judge presiding over the case at the Dagon Seikkan Township Court has faced criticism after ruling earlier this month to allow the prosecution to move forward. The defendant Aung Ko Htwe, who was detained on 18 August, has been 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.
“I cannot be examined by the court, because I don’t have trust in the judge,” he told the court, adding, “I won’t make an appearance in future hearings.”
The judge responded that he would rule on the defendant’s legal rights and obligations — as they relate to his physical presence in court for further proceedings — at the next hearing, scheduled for 14 February.
As Aung Ko Htwe entered the court compound on Wednesday, a police officer used his hand to cover the defendant’s mouth as he attempted to shout out for “rule of law” to be upheld, and Aung Ko Htwe’s supporters were not allowed to enter the courthouse for today’s hearing.
One lawyer for the accused said a three-man team of defence attorneys would no longer serve as Aung Ko Htwe’s legal representation in light of his decision to boycott future trial proceedings. The lawyer, Zaw Min Hlaing, told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing that his former client had agreed to end the power of attorney arrangement under the circumstances.
“The court will attempt to examine the defendant’s witnesses at the next hearing. I think the witnesses also won’t [agreed to] be examined. But I can’t say what would happen if the witnesses also argue against being examined,” he said.
According to Zaw Min Hlaing, the defence has called for eight witnesses to testify, including Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, with initial testimonies to be sought at the next hearing on 14 February.
The Penal Code’s 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.
The defendant maintains that he is innocent, saying he was simply answering questions from a journalist with RFA who was asking him about his feelings, difficulties and other experiences as a child soldier. He was detained about a week after the news outlet published its interview with him.
In recent days some of Aung Ko Htwe’s supporters have reportedly gone into hiding, fearing that police are seeking to arrest them. The backers on the lam include the defendant’s sister Nay Zar Htun.
Two other supporters have been detained within the last week, and they are due to make a court appearance on Thursday at the Dagon Seikkan Township Court, though the exact charges to be brought against them remain unclear.