A Myanmar junta court on Wednesday sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to five years in jail for corruption, part of a barrage of criminal cases that could see the deposed civilian leader jailed for decades.
Suu Kyi has been in military custody since a coup ousted her government in February last year and plunged the Southeast Asian nation into turmoil.
In the latest case, the Nobel laureate was accused of accepting a bribe of $600,000 in cash and gold bars.
After two days of delays, the special court in the military-built capital Naypyidaw handed down its verdict and sentence early Wednesday.
“Regarding taking gold and dollars from U Phyo Min Thein, the court sentenced her to five years’ imprisonment,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told AFP.
“She will be under house arrest. I do not know whether she asked for appeal. They are working according to the legal way. As far as I know, she’s in good health.”
Local media, citing unnamed sources close to the court, later reported she plans to appeal.
Wednesday’s sentencing earned rebukes from abroad.
The European Union slammed the trial as “politically motivated” and “yet another major setback for democracy in Myanmar since the military coup.”
At the United Nations, deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Suu Kyi was not afforded a fair hearing, and that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “wants all of the political prisoners — and that includes Aung San Suu Kyi — to be released.”
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee for its part branded the sentencing a “travesty” and slammed the junta’s “brazen persecution of the democratic leaders of Myanmar.”
Suu Kyi still faces a raft of other criminal charges, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud, and could be jailed for more than 100 years if convicted on all counts.
The 76-year-old had already been sentenced to six years in jail for incitement against the military, breaching Covid-19 rules and breaking a telecommunications law — although she will remain under house arrest while she fights other charges.
Journalists have been barred from attending the court hearings and Suu Kyi’s lawyers have been banned from speaking to the media.
She remains confined to an undisclosed location in the capital, with her link to the outside world limited to brief pre-trial meetings with lawyers.
“The days of Aung San Suu Kyi as a free woman are effectively over,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
“Destroying popular democracy in Myanmar also means getting rid of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the junta is leaving nothing to chance.”
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The coup sparked widespread protests and unrest which the military sought to crush by force.
According to a local monitoring group, the crackdown has left more than 1,700 civilians dead and seen some 13,000 arrested.
Suu Kyi has been the face of Myanmar’s democratic hopes for more than 30 years, but her earlier six-year sentence already meant she is likely to miss elections the junta says it plans to hold by next year.
Independent Myanmar analyst David Mathieson said the junta was using the criminal cases to make Suu Kyi “politically irrelevant”.
“This is just another squalid step in solidifying the coup,” he told AFP.
“This is politically motivated pure and simple.”
Many of her political allies have also been arrested since the coup, with one chief minister sentenced to 75 years in jail.
A tranche of ousted lawmakers from her National League for Democracy formed a parallel “National Unity Government” (NUG) in a bid to undermine the junta’s legitimacy.
However, the NUG holds no territory and has not been recognised by any foreign government.
Numerous “People’s Defence Force” civilian militias have sprung up around the country to take the fight to the junta, and analysts say their effectiveness has surprised the army.
Last week junta supremo Min Aung Hlaing called for peace talks with Myanmar’s long-established ethnic rebel groups — which control large areas and have battled the military for decades.
The turmoil that has engulfed Myanmar following the coup has spooked foreign investors who flocked to the country after the dawn of democracy around 2011.
© Agence France-Presse