Myanmar junta court sentences former NLD chief minister to 75 years for ‘corruption’

A military court in Myanmar on Tuesday sentenced the former National League for Democracy (NLD) chief minister of Kayin state to 75 years in prison for “corruption,” the latest example of a harsh punishment observers say is aimed at undermining party leadership.

Nang Khin Htwe Myint, 67, was found guilty by the Hpa-an Prison Special Court in Kayin state on five separate charges under the Anti-Corruption Law and handed a maximum 15 years in prison for each case, her defense lawyer Aung Thane told RFA’s Myanmar Service. The NLD Central Executive Committee member had been sentenced to two years in jail in August for “state defamation,” bringing her total sentence to 77 years.

Also found guilty of corruption on Tuesday was Than Naing, a former Kayin state minister and one of Nang Khin Htwe Myint’s cabinet members. The 65-year-old, who had also been handed two years in August for state defamation, was sentenced to 90 years in prison on six separate charges under the Anti-Corruption Law.

Speaking to RFA following the court proceedings, Aung Thane said that his client has no intention of appealing her sentence.

“Nang Khin Htwe Myint is in good health. So is Than Naing — although he had a bout of COVID-19 in prison, he is in good health now,” the lawyer said.

“Both of them [reacted calmly to the sentencing] in line with their strong beliefs. They were already expecting a harsh sentence, so they didn’t seem to be in shock.”

According to Aung Thane, one of the charges Nang Khin Htwe Myint faced was related to her failure to return 1.3 million kyats (U.S. $720) from 5 million kyats (U.S. $2,800) in state funds she borrowed when she required medical treatment following a car accident. The other four were filed against both her and Than Naing, who lent state funds to individuals and failed to repay the loan.

Observers said chief ministers under Thein Sein’s civilian-led Union Solidarity and Development Party government, which ruled Myanmar from 2011 to 2016, had been involved in similar cases of misappropriation of funds but were only made to return the money by the succeeding NLD government and not sent to prison.

‘Hatred and vengeance’

Saw Than Htut, Nang Khin Htwe Myint’s brother, told RFA that the junta’s imposition of harsh sentences was unfair.

“There can never be any justice. It’s so obvious they did it with a sense of hatred and vengeance,” he said, adding that his family “knew [the punishment] was coming.”

“My sister is now almost 70 years old. I’m just worried she will face harsh conditions in prison.”

Nang Khin Htwe Myint, a strong supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi, was detained days after the military seized power from the NLD in a Feb. 1 coup.

Nine months after the Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 1,250 civilians and arrested at least 7,134, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Many of the deaths and arrests have occurred during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.

The junta claims it unseated the NLD government because the party had engineered its victory in the 2020 election through widespread voter fraud, though international observers rated the vote legitimate. It has yet to present evidence backing up the allegation, and protests against the military regime continue.

Also detained in the aftermath of the coup were de facto NLD chief and former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, both of whom face a plethora of charges that observers say are politically motivated and could see them sentenced to decades in jail.

Undermining party leadership

Political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA that the junta is using long prison terms to undermine the leadership of the NLD party.

“Basically, it is a part of the plan to break up and bury the NLD politically by sentencing NLD leaders to long prison terms,” he said.

“Are these [sentences] in accordance with the law? No. The laws passed by the junta [since the coup] are now the laws of Myanmar, so they are doing whatever they want.”

Nang Khin Htwe Myint’s sentence is the longest handed to a chief minister since the military coup.

Than Soe Naing said that the sentencing of Nang Khin Htwe Myint and other top NLD leaders suggests that Aung San Suu Kyi could spend up to 100 years in prison if convicted for the 11 charges she faces.

A total of 45 NLD cabinet members were arrested under Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Law, as well as Aung San Suu Kyi and several state and regional chief ministers — all within the first seven months of the military takeover. Nyan Win, a top NLD official and Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal lawyer, died in detention on July 20.

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