Myanmar’s military has sentenced a close aide of deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to 20 years in prison, his lawyer said, the first high-ranking member of her party to be jailed by a court under the military government.
The country has been in turmoil since a February 1 coup toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government, accusing it of fraud in 2020 polls it won in a landslide – an assertion the country’s electoral commission has dismissed.
Myanmar has since been in chaos, with huge pro-democracy protests and a crackdown on dissent that has killed more than 1,200 people, according to a local monitoring group.
Former member of parliament and NLD speaker Win Htein was handed 20 years in jail for treason by a special court in the capital Naypyidaw, lawyer Myint Thwin told the AFP news agency on Friday.
He added that he would appeal the sentence, and that his client was in good health.
In a message to Reuters news agency, Win Htein’s daughter, Chit Suu Win Htein, condemned the ruling but said it was not unexpected.
“It’s not a surprise but it’s a sad and outrageous thing to hear about the ridiculous sentencing. Perpetrators of this injustice will be held accountable for this … Please hold on people! We will win!”
Win Htein, 80, was arrested in the aftermath of the February 1 coup.
The former soldier is a longtime political prisoner who has spent long stretches of time in detention for campaigning against military rule.
Considered Aun San Suu Kyi’s right-hand man, he has long been sought out by international and domestic media for insights into what Myanmar’s former de facto leader is thinking.
The wheelchair-bound politician requires oxygen to help him breathe, according to local media, and suffers from hypertension, diabetes, and heart and thyroid diseases.
Before his arrest three days after the coup, he had told local media the military coup was “not wise”, and that its leaders “have taken [the country] in the wrong direction”.
‘Not a good sign for others’
The sentencing was “an indication that this regime does want to throw the book at these NLD leaders”, including Aung San Suu Kyi, Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group told AFP.
“They do want to portray them as having been traitorous, corrupt and so on. It’s definitely not a good sign for others,” he said, although he added it was possible the military held a vendetta against former soldier Win Htein.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces a raft of charges that could see her jailed for decades, including illegally importing walkie-talkies, flouting coronavirus rules, accepting bribes of cash and gold, incitement to cause public alarm and violating the Official Secrets Act.
She testified for the first time in a post-coup court on Tuesday, four months after being put on trial by the military, a source with knowledge of the case told AFP.
She denied the charge of incitement in connection with her party publishing a letter in February calling on international organisations not to cooperate with the military government.
Media have been barred from attending Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial at the special court in the military-built capital Naypyidaw and the military government recently banned her legal team from speaking to reporters.
Before the ban, her lawyers said the Nobel laureate, 76, would not call any defence witnesses at her incitement trial and she will represent herself.
The military government has threatened to dissolve the NLD and continues to wage a bloody campaign against opponents to its rule.
Before she was deposed, Aung San Suu Kyi led a civilian government after her party swept to victory in a 2015 election, called when the military stepped back from half a century of direct rule.