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The family of a man sentenced to death as a 15-year-old in 2003 and later commuted to a 20-year jail term claims his incarceration is illegal under Burmese law and has called on the government to release him.
Now 21, Phyo Sithu is into his seventh year in the remote Kale prison close to the India border. His family says that he was forcibly recruited into the army at the age of 14, and the following year shot and killed his offer during an operation in Chin state.
His mother, Than Than Yee, claims however that under Burma’s Child Protection Law, no one below the age of 16 can be given either the death sentence or a jail term exceeding seven years. The likelihood of the government acknowledging this however is complicated by the fact that he was recruited into the army as a minor, something officials would be loath to admit.
“I would like to humbly ask the president to change my son’s sentence, which was given before he turned 16, in accordance with the Child Protection Law. His father and I are not in very good health and we want to have our son back in our arms,” she said.
After spending seven years on death row, Phyo Sithu’s sentence was commuted to 20 years in the government so-called prison amnesty in May. But poor conditions of his detention have taken their toll on his health, according to a former cellmate of his in Kale.
“His parents are poor so they can’t pay a visit to him, meaning he is left to survive with whatever food is provided in the prison. This led to his health deteriorating,” said the man, who spoke to DVB on condition of anonymity.
“He also has cataracts in his eye but was denied medical attention outside the prison because he’s on death row.”
Although few death sentences in Burma are ever carried out, and no one has been executed for years, the country’s prisons are populated with people serving terms that will ensure they die in jail.
Despite being illegal under Burmese law, the government is believed to be one of the world’s leading recruiters of child soldiers – a report by Human Rights Watch in 2002 found that around 70,000 children below 18 were active in the military, and cases of forced recruitment are received on a regular basis by the International Labour Organisation’s office in Rangoon.