BANGKOK - A Myanmar court on Wednesday (April 27) sentenced ousted state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to five years in prison for corruption. This is her latest conviction from a string of charges brought against her since the military coup last year (2021).
Wednesday’s ruling means Ms Suu Kyi, 76, will need to serve at least 11 years in prison. She had earlier been sentenced to a total of six years’ jail over charges that include incitement, breaching Covid-19 pandemic rules and illegally importing walkie-talkies – charges which observers say are designed to rule her out of politics.
She faces trial for 10 other corruption cases.
Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won landslide victories in the previous two general elections, but was ousted from power by the military, which claims the most recent poll in 2020 was fraudulent.
The coup triggered popular resistance that subsequently embroiled many parts of Myanmar in civil war. More than 560,000 people out of Myanmar’s 55 million population have been forced to flee their homes since the coup. Nearly half of the population is expected to fall below the poverty line this year (2022), according to United Nations projections.
Ms Suu Kyi’s sentence on Wednesday centres on allegations that she accepted bribes of US$600,000 (S$825,050) cash and gold bars from former Yangon region chief minister Phyo Min Thein in 2017 and 2018 – which she has denied.
Myanmar’s military junta has detained Ms Suu Kyi since the coup. Her trials in the capital Naypyitaw are not open to journalists and her lawyers are banned from speaking to the media.
“Sadly, there’s more where that came from in the coming months, with many additional trials on other criminal charges to follow,” Mr Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Wednesday. “Destroying popular democracy in Myanmar also means getting rid of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the junta is leaving nothing to chance.”
The junta has annulled the 2020 elections and plans to hold fresh elections next year (2023). However, it is unclear if the regime will allow its key political opponents to take part.
Several of Ms Suu Kyi’s ousted colleagues have already received lengthy jail sentences for corruption. They include former minister for investment and foreign economic relations, Thaung Tun, who was sentenced to nine years in prison on April 22 over a land lease deal.
About 10,000 political prisoners remain under detention, according to a human rights monitoring group.
Asean so far has not been able to secure much cooperation from Myanmar’s junta towards a political resolution. It currently shuts junta chief Min Aung Hlaing out of its high level summits by inviting only a “non-political representative” from Myanmar. This practice will also apply to a Washington summit involving United States president Joe Biden and leaders of Asean nations from May 12 to 13.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s military regime was last week forced to backpedal on a draconian foreign currency directive.
Its central bank had on April 3 ordered all income received in foreign currency to be converted to kyat at the official rate within one day of receipt. Last Thursday (April 21), it announced broad exemptions for foreign entities, including businesses in the country’s special economic zone, diplomats and United Nations agencies.