A court in military-ruled Myanmar has found elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was removed by the generals when they seized power, guilty of charges widely dismissed as politically motivated and sentenced her to detention at an undisclosed location.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who was convicted in a ruling on Monday, was initially given a four year term. The sentence was reduced after a partial pardon from coup leader and army chief Min Aung Hlaing, state TV reported.
President Win Myint was also sentenced to four years as the court delivered its first verdicts in numerous cases against Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders deposed by the military in a coup on February 1. Win Myint’s sentence was also later cut to two years.
According to the report on MRTV, the sentences would be applied “at their current detention places,” apparently meaning they would not be sent to prison. It is not clear where Aung San Suu Kyi has been held.
Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for Myanmar’s military told the AFP news agency on Monday that Aung San Suu Kyi was found guilty of incitement and of violating COVID-19 rules.
The ruling on Monday is the first in a dozen cases the military has brought against the 76-year-old since it seized power from her civilian government hours before a new parliament was due to convene. The trial in Naypyidaw has been closed to the media, while the military has barred Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers from communicating with the media and the public.
Other cases against the Nobel Peace Prize laureate include multiple charges of corruption, violations of a state secrets act, and a telecoms law that together carry a maximum sentence of more than 100 years in prison.
Her supporters have said the cases are baseless and designed to end her political career and tie her up in legal proceedings while the military consolidates power.
Aung San Suu Kyi has denied all the charges.
The UN human rights investigator on Myanmar urged countries on Monday to increase economic pressure on Myanmar’s generals after the sentences were announced.
“Today’s sentencing demonstrates why the international community must take stronger action to support the people of Myanmar by denying the junta the revenue and weapons that they need to continue their illegitimate grip on the people of Myanmar,” Thomas Andrews, a former US congressman who is serving in the independent post, said in a statement.
“I call upon Member States to significantly increase pressure on the junta as a result of this outrageous action.”
The daughter of the hero of Myanmar’s independence from British colonial rule, Aung San Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest under a previous military regime.
She was freed in 2010 and led her National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide victory in a 2015 election.
Her party won another landslide in November last year but, seeking to justify its coup, the military has claimed the vote was rigged. The election commission has said there was no evidence of fraud.
Historian and author Thant Myint-U said the military leaders thought their predecessors who launched reforms more than 20 years ago had gone too far in allowing Aung San Suu Kyi back into politics and the entire reason for the coup was to exclude her.
“She remains far and away most popular in Myanmar politics and may still be a potent force in what’s to come,” he told the Reuters news agency.
Western states have demanded Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and condemned the violence since the coup.
On Monday, the United Kingdom said the elected leader’s sentencing was “another appalling attempt by Myanmar’s military regime to stifle opposition and suppress freedom and democracy” and called on the “regime to release political prisoners, engage in dialogue and allow a return to democracy”.
Matthew Smith, the chief executive of the Fortify Rights group, said the sentencing was “part of a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population” and called for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a group of Southeast Asian MPs, also condemned Monday’s sentence as a “travesty of justice”.
“Since the day of the coup, it’s been clear that the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, and the dozens of other detained MPs, have been nothing more than an excuse by the junta to justify their illegal power grab,” said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian legislator who heads the APHR.
The regional Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has spearheaded diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar, must “hold the line against this illegal takeover”, he said, adding that Monday’s ruling demonstrates “the junta’s continuing contempt for ASEAN” and its peace plan, which was agreed with Myanmar’s military in April and which includes initiating dialogue between the opposing sides in the country.
‘Farcical and corrupt’
Since the coup, Myanmar has been in turmoil, paralysed by protests and instability as the military uses force to crack down on coup opponents. Security forces have killed at least 1,303 people in the clampdown, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a human rights group that tracks killings and abuses by the country’s security forces.
At least 354 opponents of the coup have also been sentenced to jail or to death, according to AAPP, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s aide, Win Htein, who was sentenced to 20 years in jail in October.
Amnesty International’s Ming Yu Hah said the sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi on “bogus charges are the latest example of the military’s determination to eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms in Myanmar”.
“The court’s farcical and corrupt decision is part of a devastating pattern of arbitrary punishment that has seen more than 1,300 people killed and thousands arrested since the military coup in February,” she said, calling for swift, decisive and unified action from the international community.
“The international community must step up to protect civilians and hold perpetrators of grave violations to account, and ensure humanitarian and health assistance is granted as a matter of utmost urgency,” she said.