by Grant Peck
BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was ousted in a de facto coup this year, was convicted on Monday of incitement and another charge and sentenced to four years in prison – An attempt by the country’s military rulers to reverse the democratic gains of recent years in a lawsuit widely criticized.
Hours later, state television reported that her sentence had been reduced to two years in amnesty and indicated that she would not serve it in prison, but instead where she is currently being detained.
The sentence serves to cement a dramatic reversal in the fortunes of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who spent 15 years under house arrest for opposing the generals of the Southeast Asian nation, but then to work with them. agreed when he promised to introduce democratic rule.
Monday’s decision was the first in a series of cases brought against 76-year-old Suu Kyi since her arrest on February 1, the day the military seized power and prevented her National League for Democracy party from starting a second term in office. Stopped.
If Suu Kyi is found guilty of all charges, she could face more than 100 years in prison. He is being kept by the army at an undisclosed location.
The court previously offered a 10-month reduction in sentencing time, according to a legal official, who delivered the ruling to the Associated Press and who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by officials. State TV’s report did not mention any credit for the time given.
The military seized power in the November 2020 election, claiming massive voting fraud, which Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly. Independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities.
Protests against the takeover erupted almost immediately and remained strong, with armed resistance spreading after the military’s violent crackdown on peaceful protests. The decision could add to the tension even more.
The cases against Suu Kyi are widely seen as a conspiracy to defame her and prevent her from running in the next election as the constitution prohibits anyone from holding a high office or becoming a legislator after being convicted of a crime. stops.
Former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Yangi Lee called the allegations as well as the verdict “fake”, while UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called the proceedings a “sham test”.
Rights groups also condemned the decision, with Amnesty International calling it “the latest example of the military’s determination to end all protests and stifle independence in Myanmar”.
Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the trial was the beginning of a process that “will most likely never allow Suu Kyi to be a free woman again.”
As is typical, China, a neighbor that has maintained friendly relations with Myanmar’s military leaders, declined to criticize the decision.
“Beijing hopes that all sides in Myanmar will take into account the country’s long-term interests, narrow differences, and carry forward the hard-won democratic transformation process,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters on Monday.
Suu Kyi is widely respected at home for her role in the country’s pro-democracy movement – and was long seen abroad as a symbol of that struggle, having been placed under house arrest for 15 years.
But since his release in 2010 and his return to politics, he has been heavily criticized for the gamble he has taken: showing respect for the military while ignoring and, at times, even defending rights violations. Do – especially the 2017 crackdown on Rohingya Muslims which rights groups have labeled genocide.
While she has disputed allegations that army men killed Rohingya civilians, set fire to homes and raped women and is extremely popular at home, this stance has tarnished her reputation abroad.
The allegations of provocation centered on statements posted on Suu Kyi’s party Facebook page after she and other party leaders were detained by the military. He was accused of spreading false or inflammatory information that could disturb public order. In addition, he was accused of violating coronavirus restrictions by appearing at a campaign event before the elections last year.
Government officials could not immediately be reached for more details about Monday’s decision by a special court, a legacy of British colonial rule often used for political matters.
Suu Kyi’s trial is closed to the media and audience, and her attorneys, who were the source of information about the proceedings, were ordered in October to refuse to release the information.
The legal officer who delivered the verdict said defense lawyers could file appeals in the coming days for Suu Kyi and two aides, who were convicted on Monday. They have argued that Suu Kyi and a co-defendant, former President Win Myint, cannot be held responsible for the statements that were alleged of incitement because they were already in custody when the statements were posted. . Win Mint’s sentence was also commuted along with Suu Kyi.
February’s seizure of power was sparked by non-violent nationwide demonstrations, which were destroyed with lethal force by security forces. They have killed around 1,300 civilians, according to a detailed tally compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Amid tough crackdown on peaceful protests, armed resistance in cities and rural areas has escalated to such an extent that UN experts have warned the country could slip into civil war.
A protest march was held on Sunday against the military government calling for the release of Suu Kyi and others.
Decisions in other cases against Suu Kyi are expected on December 13 and 14. Other cases against him include alleged unregistered importation and use of walkie-talkies by his security guards; Violation of the Official Secrets Act, of which jailed Australian economist Sean Turnell is a co-defendant; and allegations of corruption.
The military-appointed Election Commission has also announced that it intends to prosecute Suu Kyi and 15 other senior political figures for alleged fraud in the last election, which could result in the dissolution of her party.
The military says its takeover was legitimate and not a coup because the 2008 constitution—enforced under military rule—allows it to take control in certain emergencies. It argues that there were widespread irregularities in the 2020 general election and thus constituted such an emergency.
However, both the State Election Commission and the independent election monitoring group ANFREL said there was no evidence of substantial electoral fraud, and that the new government had so far not produced concrete evidence. Critics claim that the takeover bypassed the legal process of declaring a state of emergency because two key members who were supposed to participate in those consultations, Win Myint and Suu Kyi, had already been arrested.