Myanmar Court Sentences Man to Five Years in Prison Under Colonial Sodomy Law

By Nyein Nyein 12 March 2020

The South Okkalapa Township Court in Yangon sentenced a man who sexually abused his male employee two years ago to five years in prison on Wednesday.

The court found U Aung Myo Htut, owner of Mae Laint Lon restaurant, guilty of sexually abusing a waiter at his restaurant and sentenced him under Article 377 of the Penal Code, which prohibits “intercourse against the order of nature.” The article is commonly used to criminalize homosexuality and effectively prevents same-sex couples from living openly in Myanmar.

The waiter came forward about the sexual abuse and filed a complaint against his employer, who allegedly has HIV, on March 8, 2018.

The victim told The Irrawaddy at the time that he was abused three times within a week and was taking preventative HIV medication. The waiter is from the Ayeyarwady Region and only worked at the restaurant for a short period, starting on Feb. 27, 2018.

“[The verdict] was lenient, maybe because it was his first crime,” U Naing Lin Myint, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told The Irrawaddy.

“Justice is all about correcting the behaviors of the wrongdoers.”

The verdict came after two years of proceedings. The victim told The Irrawaddy at the court on Wednesday that he was satisfied with the verdict.

“Five years imprisonment is not a harsh punishment because under the law, the court could sentence a person to a maximum of 20 years, but the current verdict is also not that light,” said U Aung Myo Min, the director of rights advocacy group Equality Myanmar.

He added that the question of whether or not the verdict is just depends on the decision of the judges and the evidence in the case.

“This case is sexual abuse, as the culprit did not seek the consent of the victim, who is a man. By punishing such a perpetrator, it gives the message that the justice system won’t tolerate anyone who tries to force sex against either a man or a woman,” added U Aung Myo Min.

“The law can still be misused, as Article 377 still restricts homosexuality even when adults, regardless of their sexual identities, have consensual sex,” the rights advocate said.

LGBT rights advocates are still working to change the law and push for equality.

U Aung Myo Min added that the law must be amended so that “sexual abuse against someone of the same sex or a different sex is intolerable and defined as sexual assault—because the current legal definition is incomplete and can punish those who are homosexual.”

Zin Moe War contributed to this report.

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