Asia Pacific

Myanmar's deposed leader Suu Kyi found guilty in widely criticised trial

5 minute read
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Dec 6 (Reuters) - A court in military-ruled Myanmar found deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of charges of incitement and breaching coronavirus restrictions on Monday, drawing international condemnation of what critics described as a "sham trial".

Suu Kyi is set to serve two years in detention at an undisclosed location, a sentence reduced from four years after a partial pardon from Myanmar's military chief, state TV reported.

President Win Myint was also initially sentenced to four years as the court delivered its first verdicts in numerous cases against Suu Kyi, who led the former civilian government in the role of state counsellor, and other leaders ousted in the Feb. 1 military coup.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup against Suu Kyi's democratically elected government led to widespread protests and raised international concern about the end of tentative political reforms following decades of military rule.

Suu Kyi's supporters say the cases against her are baseless and designed to end her political career and tie her up in legal proceedings while the military consolidates power.

Her conviction had been widely expected in Myanmar. Demonstrators in the largest city, Yangon, risked arrest to stage a flash protest after the verdict.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 76, has been detained since the coup, along with most senior leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Others are abroad or in hiding.

"The conviction of the State Counsellor following a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court is nothing but politically motivated," U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in comments echoed by the European Union, Britain and others. read more

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the conviction was "unjust" and called for the release of Suu Kyi and other detained elected officials. read more

A military spokesman did not respond to attempts by Reuters to reach him for comment on the sentencing, which was widely reported in domestic media.

The military has not given details of where Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest under a previous military government, is being detained.

She is due to remain at that location to serve her sentence, MRTV reported, suggesting she will not be sent to prison.

CLOSED TRIAL

The trial in the capital Naypyitaw has been closed to the media and the junta's public information outlets have not mentioned the proceedings. Suu Kyi's lawyers have been barred from communicating with the media and public.

Suu Kyi faces a dozen cases that include multiple corruption charges plus violations of a state secrets act, a telecoms law and COVID-19 regulations, which carry combined maximum sentences of more than a century in prison. read more

Suu Kyi and co-defendant Win Myint received terms of two years for incitement and the same term for breaches of coronavirus protocols, before state media announced that both had their terms halved in a pardon. They had denied the charges.

1/5

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi attends the joint news conference of the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018. Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters

China, which has long had good relations with the military and Suu Kyi's government, urged all parties to "bridge their differences". Japan, a major investor in Myanmar, said the verdict was an "unfavourable development".

In a rare statement of condemnation, the chair of Norway's Nobel Prize awards committee said the legal process had "low credibility' and the conviction was part of the military's suppression of the opposition. read more

Dr. Sasa, a spokesperson for Myanmar's shadow civilian government set up following the coup, called on the international community to step up sanctions against Myanmar's military rulers. read more

The United States, EU and others issued a flurry of sanctions against senior military leaders and military-linked firms following the coup, but have stopped short of targeting offshore gas projects that activists say are a financial lifeline for the junta.

'MOST POPULAR'

Mark Farmaner, head of pressure group Burma Campaign UK, said Monday's verdict should prompt more action.

"Governments making statements condemning the sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi should ask themselves, are they doing everything they can to help free political prisoners in Myanmar? I can guarantee the answer is no," he said.

Nearly 7,800 people are detained for opposing the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group that has also tallied more than 1,300 people killed by the junta.

Images of the protest in Yangon on Monday show a small group giving three-fingered salutes that signal opposition to the junta.

One protester, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety, told Reuters they took to the streets to oppose the "injustice" of Suu Kyi's conviction, and were also voicing their anger at the killing of five people on Sunday when security forces rammed a car into an anti-coup protest. read more

One of the protesters' banners read, in English, "We don't let you to rule us with FEAR."

The junta says Suu Kyi is being given due process by an independent court led by a judge appointed by her own administration.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of the hero of Myanmar's independence, spent years under house arrest for her opposition to military rule but was freed in 2010 and led her NLD to a landslide victory in a 2015 election.

Her party won again in November last year but the military said the vote was rigged and seized power weeks later. The election commission dismissed the military's complaint.

Historian and author Thant Myint U said military coup leaders thought their predecessors who introduced reforms more than a decade ago had gone too far in allowing Suu Kyi back into politics.

"She remains far and away the most popular (figure) in Myanmar politics and may still be a potent force in what's to come," he told Reuters.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Writing by Martin Petty, Ed Davies, Robert Birsel, John Geddie and Simon Lewis; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

More from Reuters