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Associated Press

Myanmar Court Sentences Ousted Leader Suu Kyi To 4 Years

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a joint press conference (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)
Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a joint press conference (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)

BANGKOK (AP) — A special court in Myanmar’s capital sentenced the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to four years in prison on Monday after finding her guilty of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions, a legal official said.

The sentencing was the first in a series of cases in which the 76-year-old Nobel laureate is being prosecuted since the army seized power on Feb. 1, preventing her National League for Democracy party from starting a second five-year term in office. The ousted leader faces verdicts on other charges as early as next week.

If found guilty in all the cases she faces, she could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. The court on Monday did not make clear whether Suu Kyi would be sent to prison for the two convictions or placed under house arrest, the legal official said. In her long struggle for democracy, she has served 15 years of house arrest starting in 1989.

The official also said that Suu Kyi would be credited with 10 months for time already served in detention on the incitement case, leaving her with one year and two months to serve on that charge. There was no similar reduction on the charge of violating coronavirus restrictions.

The convictions were met quickly with severe criticism. Yanghee Lee, the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, described the charges as well as the verdict as “bogus,” declaring that any trial held in the country is unfair as the judiciary is subservient to the military-installed government.

Rights groups also deplored the verdicts, with Amnesty International calling them “the latest example of the military’s determination to eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms in Myanmar.”

China, a neighbor which has maintained friendly ties with Myanmar’s military leaders, declined to criticize the verdict against Suu Kyi.

Beijing hopes "all parties in Myanmar will bear in mind the long-term interests of the country, narrow differences and carry on the hard-won democratic transition process,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing Monday.

Monday's incitement case involved statements posted on the ousted ruling party’s Facebook page after Suu Kyi and other party leaders had already been detained by the military. The coronavirus charge involved a campaign appearance ahead of elections in November last year which her party overwhelmingly won.

The army, whose allied party lost many seats in the election, claimed massive voting fraud, but independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities.

The ruling by the court in Naypyitaw was conveyed by a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities. Suu Kyi’s trials are closed to the media and spectators, and her lawyers, who had been the sole source of information on the proceedings, were served with gag orders in October forbidding them from releasing information.

Government officials could not immediately be reached for more details about the ruling. Special courts are a legacy of British colonial rule, appointed to hear specific cases. They are most often used for political cases.

Defense lawyers are expected to file appeals in the coming days for Suu Kyi and two colleagues who were also convicted Monday, the legal official said.

The cases against Suu Kyi are widely seen as contrived to discredit her and keep her from running in the next election. The constitution bars anyone sent to prison after being convicted of a crime from holding high office or becoming a lawmaker.

Opposition to military rule remains strong 10 months after the army’s takeover, and the verdict may inflame tensions even further.

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