A court in Myanmar’s Mandalay Region sentenced a man to death on Friday after he was convicted of raping and murdering a two-year-old girl. The case was one of several recent child rape cases that have sparked public protests calling for the death penalty for convicted rapists.
Phyo Htet Aung, 23, was arrested last month for the Feb. 13 rape and murder of a two-year-old girl in village in Madaya Township. The girl was found injured in a banana plantation after going missing from her grandparents’ home. She died in a hospital soon thereafter.
More than 1,000 people protested in the township for three days after Phyo Htet Aung’s arrest to demand a mandatory death penalty for child rapists. Similar protests have erupted this year in other parts of Myanmar with the same demand.
However, the judge in this case told reporters after the sentencing that the death sentence was meted in response to Phyo Htet Aung’s murder conviction, not for the crime of rape, for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. She also said the protests played no part in the sentencing.
“The court gave Phyo Htet Aung the death penalty under the provisions of Penal Code 302/1(C). We were under no pressure from any persons or organization to give him this sentence,” Judge Htay Htay Maw said.
“He received a 20-year sentence for the child rape, but he also committed murder, and that is why we sentenced him to death,” she said.
Myanmar has not carried out a death sentence since the 80s, and is considered to have de facto abolished capital punishment by the Cornell Center of the Death Penalty Worldwide. Phyo Htet Aung will be able to appeal the sentence.
A common claim among activists who advocate for the death penalty for rapists is that they rarely serve out full prison sentences, frequently enjoying early releases for good behavior or by bribing judges or prison officials. The prospect of an early release, the activists say, erodes the deterrent power of Myanmar’s laws against rape.
On March 18, Mandalay police fired warning shots at a mob of around 500 people who stormed a police station where an accused child rapist was being held. The mob was demanding the handover of the suspect and his eventual execution. Eight of the rioters were arrested.
Myanmar’s parliament is now weighing a new bill for the Protection and Prevention of Violence Against Women, which would enact a mandatory life sentence for child rapists if passed.