A court official said a Myanmar court sentenced the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to four years in prison after convicting her of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions
BANGKOK – A special court in Myanmar’s capital on Monday sentenced the country’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison after convicting her of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions, said a judicial official.
The court’s decision was transmitted by a judicial officer who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being sanctioned by the authorities. Suu Kyi’s trials are closed to media and spectators, and her lawyers, who were the sole source of information about the proceedings, received gag orders in October banning them from disclosing information.
The cases against Suu Kyi are widely seen as designed to discredit her and prevent her from standing in the next election. The constitution prohibits anyone sent to prison after being convicted of a felony from holding high office or becoming a legislator.
Opposition to the military regime remains strong 10 months after the military takeover, and the verdict could escalate tensions even further.
There were protest marches on Sunday against the military government and calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detained members of his government. An army truck deliberately rushed into a march of around 30 young people in Yangon, the country’s largest city, and at least three of the protesters may have been killed, according to unconfirmed reports.
The verdicts in Suu Kyi’s first two cases, on incitement – for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information that could disrupt public order – and violating the Disaster Management Act for allegedly violating the restrictions on coronaviruses, were to be made last Tuesday. However, the court postponed its decision without explanation. At the same time, he agreed to allow testimony this week on a separate coronavirus charge from another defense witness who had previously been unable to appear in court due to health concerns.
Suu Kyi’s attorneys vigorously demanded that the incitement charge be dismissed. The prosecution’s evidence consisted of statements posted on a Facebook page of Suu Kyi’s party. Defense lawyers argued that Suu Kyi and a co-accused, former President Win Myint, could not be held responsible for the statements – which criticized the takeover and suggested in general terms to oppose it – because they were already in detention.
Former Naypyitaw mayor Myo Aung was another accused in the charge, carrying a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine. Win Myint was sentenced to a total of four years and Myo Aung to two years.
The February seizure was met with non-violent nationwide protests, which security forces cracked down on with lethal force. They killed around 1,300 civilians, according to a detailed count compiled by the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners.
With severe restrictions on non-violent protests, armed resistance has grown in towns and countryside, to the point that UN experts have warned the country is descending into civil war.
The military arrested Suu Kyi on the day of her takeover, and she has not been seen in public since then, although she has appeared in court in several of her trials.
Judgment on Suu Kyi’s second count for violating coronavirus restrictions is scheduled for December 14. The maximum penalty for each count is three years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Other cases against Suu Kyi currently pending concern the alleged unregistered importation and use of walkie-talkies by her security officers; violation of the Official Secrets Act, in which jailed Australian economist Sean Turnell is a co-accused; and four separate bribery charges covering the alleged acceptance of a bribe and the abuse of power to obtain favorable terms on real estate transactions. Each of the corruption charges carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine.
A trial for a fifth corruption charge has not yet started, and state media reported last week that a sixth charge has also been filed against Suu Kyi.
The latest charge accuses him and Win Myint of corruption in the licensing of helicopter rental and purchase.
In mid-November, the military-appointed electoral commission announced its intention to prosecute Suu Kyi and 15 other high-ranking politicians for alleged fraud in the last election, which could lead to the dissolution of his party.
The military said it took power over widespread electoral fraud, a claim independent election observers say lacks evidence.