Myanmar Gives More Prison Time to Its Best-Known Convict
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader who was detained in a coup last year, was sentenced to three more years in prison, with hard labor, on Friday when a court found her guilty of election fraud in a case that the army brought against her after her political party won in a landslide in 2020.
The latest sentence brings her total prison term to 20 years, an indication that the junta is not easing its pressure on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi despite international condemnation. The guilty verdict comes as the military seeks to erase her influence in the country. Last month, Myanmar’s military-backed Supreme Court announced that it would auction off her residence, where she spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under a previous regime.
The election fraud case stems from a November 2021 charge brought by the junta-controlled Election Commission: Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior officials were accused of manipulating voter lists to clinch the 2020 election. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy, crushed the military-backed party in that vote, which independent international observers declared free and fair.
The election commission’s previous members also pushed back against the claim of voter fraud, saying there was no evidence. A day after announcing the coup in February 2021, the army dismissed all the members of the commission and installed their own people. It later announced that the election results had been canceled.
In July, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi testified for the first time on the election fraud charge, saying she was not guilty. On Friday, a judge in Naypyidaw, the capital, also sentenced U Win Myint, the country’s ousted president, to three years, the maximum term, on the same charge.
The junta, which has long rejected criticisms that the charges against Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi were politically motivated, has accused her ofbreaking the law. In the election fraud case, it said it had found nearly 10.5 million instances of irregularities and had identified entries where a person’s national identification number had been repeated — either under the same name or a different one. It also said it found ballots with no national identification number listed at all.
The U.S.-based Carter Center, which had more than 40 observers visiting polling stations on Election Day, said voting had taken place “without major irregularities being reported by mission observers.”
Friday’s sentencing was the fifth verdict meted out against Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 77, who has already stood trial on a series of other charges that include inciting public unrest and breaching Covid-19 protocols. It was the first time she had been sentenced to hard labor, which forces convicts to carry heavy rocks in quarries, a practice international rights groups have denounced. She is appealing the sentence, according to a source familiar with the legal proceedings.
She had already been sentenced to a total of 17 years in prison, starting in December 2021. She still faceseight more charges relating to corruption and violating the official secrets act. If found guilty on all remaining charges, she could face a maximum imprisonment of 119 years.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has denied all of the charges against her, while the United Nations and many other international organizations have demanded her freedom.
No one has heard from Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi since she was detained, except for her lawyers, who are banned from speaking to the media. She is being held in solitary confinement, whereas previous military regimes allowed her remain under house arrest.
Despite the regime’s effort to make her disappear, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is still revered by many in Myanmar. A paper fan that belonged to her sold in an online auction for more than $340,000 last month to help a victim who had been burned by the military in an arson attack. Her son, Kim Aris, auctioned off a piece of art that sold for more than $1 million, money that will go toward helping victims of the military’s brutality.
Myanmar has been wracked by widespread protests since the coup. Thousands of armed resistance fighters are battling the army, carrying out bombings and assassinations that have handicapped the military in some parts of the country. The civil disobedience movement, started by striking doctors, teachers and railway workers, is still going strong.
On Friday, the junta sentenced Vicky Bowman, a former British ambassador, and her Burmese husband, Ko Htein Lin, to one year in prison for breaching immigration laws, according to a prison official.
The Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s army is known, has long resented Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose widespread popularity threatens military rule. Before her most recent arrest, she had kept a distance from the Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the army and the general behind the coup.
The two leaders were part of a delicate power-sharing arrangement in which Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi headed the civilian side of government and General Min Aung Hlaing maintained absolute control over the military, the police and the border guards. The two rarely spoke, choosing instead to send messages through an intermediary.
Many political experts point to the time in 2016 when Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the N.L.D., introduced a bill in Parliament to create a new post for her as state counselor as a moment when ties fractured between the army and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. As state counselor, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi declared herself above the president and named herself foreign minister, a move that the military saw as a power grab.
In November 2020, the N.L.D. won by an even greater margin compared with its previous election showing. Three months later, and hours before the new Parliament was scheduled to be sworn in, soldiers and the police arrested Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other party leaders.
General Min Aung Hlaingannounced the coup later that day, declaring on public television that there had been “terrible fraud” during the vote.