Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader, was found guilty of corruption on Friday and sentenced to seven years in prison, almost two years after she was first detained by the military in a coup.
Suu Kyi, 77, a Nobel laureate, had already begun serving a 26-year prison sentence in connection with more than a dozen charges she has faced since being detained. The additional sentence she received on Friday makes it likely that she will remain behind bars for the rest of her life, unless the junta reduces her sentence to house arrest, overturns its own ruling, or falls from power.
Suu Kyi’s lawyers plan to appeal, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.
Friday’s verdict, delivered in a courtroom that sits inside a prison in the capital, Naypyidaw, was expected to draw international condemnation.
“The verdicts were unsurprising — this was purely a show trial,” said Richard Horsey, a senior adviser on Myanmar for the International Crisis Group. “As with the coup itself, the regime’s objective has been to silence Aung San Suu Kyi and remove her from the political landscape.”
There is widespread speculation in Myanmar that the junta wanted to finish Suu Kyi’s trials by the end of the year so that it could focus on another goal: installing Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the military leader behind last year’s coup, as President when the country holds its next general election in mid-2023.
Suu Kyi has been charged with a series of crimes by the junta, including corruption, election fraud, inciting public unrest and breaching Covid-19 protocols.
The military-controlled Election Commission first brought election fraud charges against Suu Kyi in November 2021, about a year after her political party won in a landslide. During that trial,Suu Kyi and other senior government officials were accused of manipulating voter lists to secure their victory over the military-backed party. She has denied all of the charges against her.
Friday’s sentencing pertained to a set of charges separate from the election-fraud case. She was found guilty of five counts of corruption that caused a loss of state funds. Prosecutors had argued that Suu Kyi did not follow the proper protocols when she rented one helicopter and bought a second, sometime between 2019 and 2021.
While the junta has insisted that the charges against Suu Kyi are not politically motivated, the military has long considered her a threat and sought to minimise her influence in Myanmar, said U Kyee Myint, a human rights lawyer in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
“As long as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in politics, the military will never win,” Kyee Myint said. “That’s why long-term prison terms are imposed — to remove Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s influence in politics.”
Suu Kyi still has legions of devoted followers in a country now ruled by General Min Aung Hlaing.
“I think Min Aung Hlaing wanted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to suffer and die in prison, so he sentenced her to a long prison term,” said Nge Nge Lwin, the owner of a gas station in Yangon and the aunt of a student activist who has been detained at the city’s notorious Insein prison.
“But Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ruled the country with love and is loved by the people. I don’t think she’s someone who will die, depressed, in prison.”
New York Times News Service