BANGKOK — A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted the country’s former leader Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption and sentenced her to five years in prison on Wednesday in the first of several corruption cases against her.
Suu Kyi, who was ousted by a military takeover last year, had denied the allegation that she had accepted gold and hundreds of thousands of dollars given in bribes by a prominent political colleague.
Her supporters and independent legal experts see her prosecution as an unfair move aimed at discrediting Suu Kyi and legitimizing the military’s takeover while preventing the 76-year-old elected leader from returning to an active role in politics.
Daughter of Aung San, the founding father of Myanmar, Suu Kyi became a public figure in 1988 during a failed uprising against a former military government when she helped found the National League for Democracy party. She spent 15 of the next 21 years under house arrest for leading a nonviolent struggle for democracy that won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. When the military authorized an election in 2015, her party won a overwhelming victory and she became de facto head of state. His party won a larger majority in the 2020 elections.
She has already been sentenced to six years in prison in other cases and faces 10 other corruption charges. The maximum penalty provided by the anti-corruption law is 15 years in prison and a fine. Convictions in the other cases could carry sentences of more than 100 years in prison in total.
“These accusations will only have credibility in the eyes of the courts stacked with the junta (and the army’s supporters),” said Moe Thuzar, a fellow at the Yusof Ishak Institute, a center for South Asian studies. Southeast to Singapore. “Even if there were legitimate concerns or complaints about corruption on the part of a member of an elected government, a coup and imposed military rule is certainly not the way to respond to such concerns. concerns.”
News of Wednesday’s verdict came from a judicial official who asked not to be identified as he is not authorized to release such information. Suu Kyi’s trial in the capital, Naypyitaw, has been closed to media, diplomats and spectators, and her lawyers have not been allowed to speak to the press.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in the 2020 general election, but lawmakers were barred from taking place when the military seized power on February 1, 2021, arresting Suu Kyi and many high-ranking colleagues in his party and government. . The military claimed it acted because there had been massive voter fraud, but independent election monitors found no major irregularities.
The takeover was met with large, non-violent protests across the country, which security forces put down with lethal force that has so far resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,800 civilians, according to a monitoring group. , the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners.
As the crackdown intensified, armed resistance against the military government intensified and some UN experts now characterize the country as being in a state of civil war.
Suu Kyi has not been seen or allowed to speak in public since her arrest and is being held at an undisclosed location. However, at last week’s final hearing in the case, she appeared to be in good health and asked her supporters to “stay united”, said a legal official with knowledge of the proceedings who asked not to not be named as he is not authorized to divulge any information. .
In previous cases, Suu Kyi was sentenced to six years in prison for illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions and sedition.
In the case to be heard on Wednesday, she was accused of receiving $600,000 and seven gold bars in 2017-2018 from Phyo Min Thein, the former chief minister of Yangon, the country’s largest city and a senior official of his political party. Her lawyers, before she received gag orders late last year, said she had dismissed all of her testimony against her as “absurd”.
The other nine cases currently being tried under the anti-corruption law include several related to the purchase and lease of a helicopter by one of his former ministers. Violations of the law are punishable for each offense with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine.
Suu Kyi is also accused of embezzling money intended for charitable donations to build a residence and of abusing her position to obtain rental properties at below market prices for a foundation named after his mother. The state’s Anti-Corruption Commission said several of his alleged actions deprived the state of revenue it would otherwise have earned.
Another bribery charge alleging she accepted a bribe has yet to go to trial.
Suu Kyi is also on trial for violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, and for election fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of three years.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s days as a free woman are effectively over. Myanmar’s junta and the country’s kangaroo courts are marching together to lock up Aung San Suu Kyi for what could ultimately be the equivalent of a sentence in perpetuity, given his advanced age,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Destroying popular democracy in Myanmar also means getting rid of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the junta leaves nothing to chance.