Detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years in prison by the military court in Naypydaw Prison on Wednesday, for two corruption cases involving charges of accepting money from businessman Maung Weik, according to sources close to the court who requested anonymity for security reasons.
Under Section 55 of the Anti-Corruption Law, she was sentenced to three years each for the two cases by Mandalay region judge Myint San. The sentences will be served concurrently.
Suu Kyi was previously sentenced to 23 years in prison for 12 cases, so she will now serve a total of 26 years in prison.
The trial was to hear a lawsuit, filed by the State Administration Council’s (SAC) Anti-Corruption Commission Inspector Ye Htet, in which the State Administration Council (SAC) alleged that Suu Kyi accepted U.S.$ 500,000 in four installments as a donation to the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation to facilitate Maung Weik’s business operations.
When Suu Kyi’s lawyers gave her final plea at the trial on Oct.4 they said the money was donated by Maung Weik to the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, which supports education, healthcare and rural investment.
They argued that Suu Kyi was innocent of corruption because the money that Maung Weik gave was found in the foundation’s bank account.
Aung San Suu Kyi testified at the trial on Sept. 20, saying that she was not guilty. When Maung Weik testified as a witness for the prosecution at the trial on May 31, he said he had donated the money solely to be used for the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation. He kneeled down and paid respect to Suu Kyi at the trial according to sources close to the court, who declined to be named for safety reasons.
Lawyer Kyee Myint told RFA the court’s decision to impose prison sentences is not in accordance with the law because Maung Weik testified in court about where the money went.
“The main thing that Maung Weik said is that he is donating to the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation,” he said.
“Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be punished with this since he did not give [the money] to Aung San Suu Kyi. There is no rule of law in Myanmar because [the junta] are punishing [her] even though [she] cannot be punished like that. It is proof that the judiciary is doing what the dictator asks.”
SAC Spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun previously told RFA that Suu Kyi would be judged for cases that are legally valid and that no one is above the law.
On Sept. 2, Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor for election fraud.
On Sept. 29, she was sentenced to three years in prison under Section-3 (1) (c) of the Myanmar Government Secrecy Act, along with Sean Turnell, an Australian citizen who served as an economic adviser during the National League for Democracy-led government, and three NLD ministers, who also received three-year sentences.
The fact that Suu Kyi’s cases are being ordered continuously is because of the personal hatred felt by SAC Chairman, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and is being carried out in response to opposition from domestic and overseas groups, Bo Bo Oo, the NLD’s MP for Dala township in Yangon region told RFA.
“At present, all the people around the world are against them [the military regime] succeeding in diplomacy, in international relations, in building the administration, both on the international and on the domestic page. And all the governments of the world are against him [Min Aung Hlaing] because of this,” he said.
“If a bad guy doesn’t get what he wants, it is natural to take a hostage and moan louder, and that’s it”.”
He added that since the SAC illegally seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, the current court cases are also illegal.
Speaking to RFA after the sentencing, Kyaw Zaw, the spokesman for the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) President Duwa Lashi La, decried the lack of independence of Myanmar’s judicial system under military rule.
“The court is just a normal office handing down orders directly given by the junta. The judges are simply following the orders, and have no legal authority,” he said.
“The punishments imposed on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are completely inconsistent with the law and are illegal.”
Political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe said that the junta is heaping sentences on Suu Kyi so that “if they release her in the future, the public will see them as reasonable and kind.”
“Additionally, she might be released and used as a bargaining chip to legitimize elections under the junta,” he said.
“On the other hand, the military junta may be trying to wipe out her influence and presence in Myanmar politics completely through these heavy punishments. It could be aimed at completely removing her influence from political affairs.”
78-year-old Suu Kyi faced trial in 19 cases after the military coup and has been sentenced to a total of 26 years in prison for 14 of the cases. The rest of the cases have yet to come to trial at the Naypyidaw Prison Court.
The cases that are still pending include the purchase and leasing of a helicopter from the Natural Disaster Management Fund to carry out disaster prevention activities under the NLD Government. There are still five corruption cases filed by the SAC.
Murray Hiebert, a senior associate of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., told RFA it’s unclear why the junta thinks that it can convince a skeptical population of Suu Kyi’s guilt by simply piling on convictions, because “nobody is buying it.”
But he suggested that in doing so, the military regime “hopes to send a signal to the international community that Aung San Suu Kyi is politically finished once and for all and that their critics should stop hoping for her to be restored to the post from which she was ousted 20 months ago.”
Billy Ford, Burma program officer at Washington’s United States Institute of Peace, said that while the new sentence is “yet another tragedy” in post-coup Myanmar, it was “predictable” and unlikely to have much of an effect on the broader resistance movement.
“Unless the junta is forced out of power or she is pardoned, she will likely spend the rest of her life in prison regardless of how many of these fabricated charges she is convicted of,” he added.
Sources close to the court, who also requested anonymity, said an appeal to the High Court against Wednesday’s sentence will continue. They added that Suu Kyi appeared to be in good health during the trial.
Meanwhile, Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota, who was sentenced by a court in Myanmar to seven years in prison on two counts last week, was sentenced to an additional three years on Wednesday for violating the country’s immigration law, according to a report by Reuters news agency. He will now be required to serve 10 years behind bars.
Kubota, 26, was arrested in July while filming a protest in Yangon and found guilty on Oct. 5 of defaming the state and violating the Electronic Communication Act by a military court at Yangon’s Insein prison. He was sentenced to three years for the first charge and seven years for the second but the sentences will be served concurrently.
On Wednesday, Reuters quoted a Japanese foreign ministry official as saying that Tokyo is actively monitoring his case.
“The Japanese government will keep on asking the Myanmar side for an early release of Mr Kubota,” the official said.
Calls seeking comment from junta Deputy Information Minister Major General Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Wednesday.
Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup, according to the AP news agency. It said Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster from the U.S., who worked for local organizations, and Polish freelancer Robert Bociaga were all deported before the end of their sentences. Japanese freelancer Yuki Kitazumi was freed before his trial, after a month of detention.
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