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 the country’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 by the military in a coup on February 1.
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 following the verdict on Monday. Images seen by Reuters show a small group giving three-fingered salutes that signal opposition to the junta.
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,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in comments echoed by the European Union and others.
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.
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 due to her opposition to military rule before becoming Myanmar‘s leader – 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.
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.
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.
Western countries have demanded Suu Kyi’s release and criticised the violence since the coup in which some 1,300 people have been killed, according to rights groups.
Liz Truss, the foreign minister of former colonial power Britain, said Suu Kyi’s sentencing was “another appalling attempt by Myanmar’s military regime to stifle opposition and suppress freedom and democracy”.
The European Union’s top diplomat condemned the verdict as “politically motivated” and called for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Myanmar.
China, which has long had good relations with the military as well as Suu Kyi’s government, urged all parties to “bridge their differences”, while Japan, a major investor in Myanmar, said the verdict was an “unfavourable development”.
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.
In a rare statement of condemnation, the chair of Norway’s Nobel Prize awards committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said the legal process had “low credibility’ and the conviction was part of the military’s suppression of the opposition.
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.
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.