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 Wednesday in the first of several corruption cases against her.
Suu Kyi’s ouster by the Army overthrow last year was a result of her denial of an allegation she received gold and hundreds, 000 dollars as a bribe from a senior political leader.
Her supporters and independent legal experts consider her prosecution an unjust move to discredit Suu Kyi and legitimize the military’s seizure of power while keeping the 76-year-old elected leader from returning to an active role in politics.
In other cases, she was already sentenced to six-years imprisonment and is now facing 10 additional corruption charges. Under the Anti-Corruption Act, the maximum sentence is 15 years imprisonment and a $500 fine. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate could be sentenced to more than 100 years prison for other offences. This is for someone who spent years under military dictatorship.
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News of Wednesday’s verdict came from a legal official who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to release such information. Suu Kyi’s trial in the capital Naypyitaw was closed to the media, diplomats and spectators, and her lawyers were barred from speaking to the press.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in the 2020 general election, but lawmakers were not allowed to take their seats when the army seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, arresting Suu Kyi and many senior colleagues in her party and government. The army claimed it acted because there had been massive electoral fraud, but independent election observers didn’t find any major irregularities.
Large, nonviolent protests were met by security forces nationwide. They repelled the demonstrations with lethal force. This has led to almost 1,800 civilian deaths, according to an advocacy group called the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
A demonstrator holds up Aung San Suu Kyi’s portrait to commemorate her birthday at a demonstration in Yangon, June 19, 2021 against the military coup.
AFP via Getty Images
The repression escalated and the armed resistance against military governments grew. U.N. experts have now classified the country as in a civil war.
Since her detention, Suu Kyi is currently being kept in an undisclosed place. She hasn’t been allowed to talk in public and she has not been seen since. 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 familiar with the proceedings who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to release information.
In earlier cases, Suu Kyi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on convictions of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions and sedition.
In the case decided Wednesday, she was accused of receiving $600,000 and seven gold bars in 2017-18 from Phyo Min Thein, the former chief minister of Yangon, the country’s biggest city and a senior member of her political party. Her lawyers, before they were served with gag orders late last year, said she rejected all his testimony against her as “absurd.”
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Nine other anti-corruption cases are currently under investigation. They relate to one of her ex-Ministers’ purchase and rental of an aircraft. The maximum punishment for violating the law is 15 years prison time and a fine.
Suu Kyi faces charges of stealing money intended for charity donations and using her position to rent property at a lower price than the market to fund a foundation she named after her mother. According to the Anti-Corruption Commission, Suu Kyi’s alleged acts have deprived the state revenue that it could otherwise earn.
A second corruption accusation, that she took a bribe from someone else, has yet to be tried.
Suu Kyi faces two charges: one for violating the Official Secrets Act which can lead to a sentence of up to 14 years and another that alleges election fraud which could result in a sentence of no more than three years.
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