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Monday, March 27, 2023

Myanmar court again finds ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of corruption

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A court in military-ruled Myanmar has convicted the country’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption, sentencing her to seven years in prison in the last of a string of criminal cases against her.

The court’s action leaves her with a total of 33 years to serve in prison following a series of politically tinged prosecutions since the army toppled her elected government in February 2021.

The 77-year-old Suu Kyi has also been convicted of several other offenses, including illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, breaching the country’s official secrets act, sedition and election fraud.

All her previous convictions had landed her with a total of 26 years’ imprisonment.

In the five counts of corruption decided on Friday, Ms Suu Kyi was alleged to have abused her position and caused a loss of state funds by neglecting to follow financial regulations in granting permission to Win Myat Aye, a Cabinet member in her former government, to hire, buy and maintain a helicopter.

Ms Suu Kyi was the de facto head of government, holding the title of state counsellor. Mr Win Myint, who was president in her government, was a co-defendant in the same case.

Her supporters and independent analysts say the charges against her are an attempt to legitimise the military’s seizure of power while eliminating her from politics before an election it has promised for next year.

Friday’s verdict in the purpose-built courtroom in the main prison on the outskirts of the capital, Naypyitaw, was made known by a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities.

The trial was closed to the media, diplomats and spectators, and Ms Suu Kyi’s lawyers were barred by a gag order from talking about it.

The legal official said Ms Suu Kyi received sentences of three years for each of four charges, to be served concurrently, and four years for the charge related to the helicopter purchase, for a total of seven years. Mr Win Myint received the same sentences.

The defendants denied all the charges, and her lawyers are expected to appeal in the coming days.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: “From start to finish, the junta grabbed whatever it could to manufacture cases against her with full confidence that the country’s kangaroo courts would come back with whatever punitive judgments the military wanted.

“Due process and a free and fair trial were never remotely possible under the circumstances of this political persecution against her.”

The end of the court cases against Ms Suu Kyi, at least for now, raises the possibility that she would be allowed outside visitors, which she has been denied since she was detained.

Ms Suu Kyi is currently being held in a newly constructed separate building in the prison in Naypyitaw, near the courthouse where her trial was held, with three policewomen whose duty is to assist her.

Allowing access to Ms Suu Kyi has been a major demand of the many international critics of Myanmar’s military rulers, who have faced diplomatic and political sanctions for their human rights abuses and suppression of democracy.

Win Myat Aye is now Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management in the National Unity Government established as a parallel administration by elected legislators who were barred from taking their seats when the military seized power last year. The military has declared NUG to be an outlawed “terrorist organisation.”

Ms Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s martyred independence hero General Aung San, spent almost 15 years as a political prisoner under house arrest between 1989 and 2010.

Her tough stand against the military rule in Myanmar turned her into a symbol of nonviolent struggle for democracy, and won her the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Her National League for Democracy party initially came to power after easily winning the 2015 general election, ushering in a true civilian government for the first time since a 1962 military coup.

But after coming to power, Suu Kyi was criticised for showing deference to the military while ignoring atrocities it is credibly accused of committing in a 2017 crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory again in the 2020 election, but less than three months afterwards, elected officials were kept from taking their seats in Parliament and top members of her government and party were detained.

The army said it acted because there had been massive voting fraud in the 2020 election, but independent election observers did not find any major irregularities.

The army’s takeover in 2021 triggered widespread peaceful protests that security forces tried to crush with deadly forces and that soon erupted into armed resistance.

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