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Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison

A person holds a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi as Myanmar citizens protest against the military coup in front of the U.N. office in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 22, 2021.

A Myanmar court sentenced deposed democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in jail on Monday. Hours later the military reduced the sentence to two years.

Suu Kyi was found guilty of incitement and breaching COVID-19 rules after being detained by the military as it seized power in February. Monday's verdict was made in a closed hearing at Myanmar’s Zabuthiri Court in Naypyidaw, the country’s capital.

Win Myint, the ousted president for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, received the same sentence.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns Ming Yu Hah said the charges against Suu Kyi were “bogus” and the junta is attempting to “eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms in Myanmar.”

Human Rights Watch also condemned the sentencing, as did U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the “unjust conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi and the repression of other democratically elected officials are yet further affronts to democracy and justice” in Myanmar.

According to Reuters, the incitement charges were related to a letter sent by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party urging embassies within Myanmar not to recognize military rule shortly after February’s coup. The second charge was linked to the breaching of COVID-19 protocols during last year’s election campaigns.

Both Suu Kyi and Myint had denied any wrongdoing.

The court Monday ruled that the incitement charges were a violation under Myanmar’s section 505 (B) of the Penal Code, while the COVID-19 breach was a violation of Myanmar’s Natural Disaster Law.

FILE - This handout photo taken May 24, 2021, and released by Myanmar's Ministry of Information May 26, shows detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and detained president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw.
FILE - This handout photo taken May 24, 2021, and released by Myanmar's Ministry of Information May 26, shows detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and detained president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw.

Dr. Myo Aung, the ousted chairman of Naypyitaw Council, was also found guilty of incitement and received two years in jail.

Khin Maun Zaw, the lawyer for the defendants, told VOA that it was “most likely” there would be an appeal, but admitted nothing has been decided yet.

He added Suu Kyi’s reaction in court was “defiant as ever,” and that it’s “probable” that she will be moved from house arrest where she has spent the last nine months.

In an interview with the BBC in November, Myanmar military spokesman Zaw Min Thun said that Suu Kyi has been treated “well” despite her being held in an undisclosed location under house arrest.

February 1 saw Myanmar’s armed forces oust Suu Kyi and her democratically elected government following claims of unsubstantiated electoral fraud.

Myanmar’s military State Administrative Council has charged Suu Kyi with approximately a dozen criminal charges, including corruption and violating the country's official secrets act. Her charges, widely condemned as unjust by her supporters, carry a maximum of over 100 years in jail combined.

But it's not the first time Suu Kyi has been under military arrest.

She spent nearly 15 years in military detention between 1989 and 2010, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Once seen as a democracy icon internationally, her global reputation declined following the Rohingya genocide from 2016-2017, after she was criticized for failing to acknowledge the crackdown.

Khin Zaw Win, director of the Yangon-based NGO Tampadipa Institute told VOA Monday's sentencing was expected due to the history of Myanmar's political prisoners.

“It’s been a fact of life in Burma (Myanmar) for some decades now, that if someone faces a political charge, the maximum sentence is passed, no matter how brilliant your defense is.

"This is only the first in a long line of rulings, and we have to expect more of the same. The façade of the due judicial process is always maintained, to show that it’s not a military tribunal,” he said.

The political analyst added that Myanmar’s military leaders decide how laws can be interpreted, pointing to the convictions for both Suu Kyi and Win Mint for breaking COVID-19 protocols.

“The “appropriateness” of applying laws is decided by the top leadership and not by any judicial authority. If the Disaster Law is to be applied to these two leaders, it can be applied to thousands more who campaigned before the elections," he said.

Aung Thu Nyein, a political analyst from Myanmar, told VOA that Suu Kyi’s mounting charges are a tactic by the junta to limit her political influence in the future.

“I’m not surprised [with] the verdict, as nobody can hope to have a free and fair trial by the junta, but I feel sorry for her.”

With 76-year-old Suu Kyi now facing at least four years in jail, this sentence alone would take it beyond the next elections. Following February's takeover, the military government initially announced that new elections would be held next year, but later they changed this timeframe until 2023.

“Ultimately the junta may want to play a time factor, putting it on hold beyond her age," Aung Thu Nyein said but admitted with continued instability of Myanmar's politics, eventually Suu Kyi may be able to find an agreement.

“Aung San Suu Kyi’s [case] is a difficult question to answer. Her legitimacy is still relevant in Myanmar’s politics and current impasse. Even though, the junta leader may keep personal prejudice against her, one day they have to meet her for seeking a political solution,” Aung Thu Nyein added.

But with Suu Kyi’s future now under the control of the military once again, Khin Zaw Win said it’s time to face reality.

“What it tells is that they [the military] will always do it their way. In the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, she is out of the game. The international community has to get used to this fact,” he added.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma has been in disarray this year with widespread anti-coup protests and strikes still continuing today. But armed forces have violently cracked down on dissidents, with nearly 1,303 killed according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.