Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to five years in prison after she was found guilty of corruption by a court in military-controlled Myanmar, the latest in a series of legal cases condemned as an attempt to remove her as a political threat.
Myanmar’s former leader, 76, has been detained since a military coup in February last year plunged the country into a political crisis and escalating conflict. Since then, she has been charged with at least 18 offences, ranging from election fraud to violating the Official Secrets Act. The various charges carry maximum sentences that could lead to Aung San Suu Kyi spending the rest of her life in detention.
In the latest case, she was accused of accepting 11.4kg (402 oz) of gold bars and cash payments totalling US$600,000 from the former Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein.
Her legal team have rejected the charges as absurd, while rights groups have described them as a clear attempt to remove Aung San Suu Kyi from politics.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, called the corruption allegations as “bogus”.
“The days of Aung San Suu Kyi as a free woman are effectively over. Myanmar’s junta and the country’s kangaroo courts are walking in lockstep to put Aung San Suu Kyi away for what could ultimately be the equivalent of a life sentence, given her advanced age,” Robertson said.
“Destroying popular democracy in Myanmar also means getting rid of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the junta is leaving nothing to chance,” he added.
The military has faced strong opposition to its rule, including both peaceful pro-democracy protest movements, and an armed resistance, with civilians taking up arms in response to military attacks. The junta has used relentless violence to assert its control, prompting the UN to warn such abuses may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, citing the bombardment of populated areas with airstrikes, as well as reports of mass killings of civilians, and torture.
It is not known where Aung San Suu Kyi is being held. She has not been seen in public since the coup, and trials have taken place in a closed court, with her legal representatives banned from talking to the media.
Last month, the independent media outlet Myanmar Now reported a rare message from the ousted leader, relayed through an anonymous source, in which she urged the public to stay united.
The source told the outlet: “She said today that everyone needs to stay united and hold discussions on different views. If they still aren’t able to open dialogues now, she said to wait patiently until it is possible to do so.”
Aung San Suu Kyi is one of more than 10,300 people are currently in detention, according to estimates by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group that tracks arrests and killings. Among those arrested are members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy, as well as anyone suspected of opposing the military – from writers and intellectuals, to public sector workers who refuse to work in junta-controlled departments.
According to AAPP, 100 people have been sentenced to death, including 57 adults and two children who are currently in prison. Others have been sentenced in absentia.