BANGKOK: A court in Myanmar on Friday sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to three years’ imprisonment with labor after finding her guilty of election fraud, adding more jail time to the 17 years she is already serving for other offenses prosecuted by the military government.
The latest verdict also carries potentially significant political consequences for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party by lending support to the government’s explicit threats to dissolve it before a new election the military has promised for 2023.
Suu Kyi’s party won the the 2020 general election in a landslide victory, but the army seized power the following February and kept her from a second five-year term in office. The army contends it acted because of alleged widespread fraud in the polls though independent election observers did not find any major irregularities.
Some critics of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who led the takeover and is now Myanmar’s top leader, believe he acted because the vote thwarted his own political ambitions.
The military’s seizure of power prompted widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts now characterize as civil war.
Suu Kyi had already been sentenced to 17 years in prison on charges of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition and five counts of corruption. Many top members of her party and government also have been jailed, while others are in hiding or have fled abroad.
Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say all the charges against her are politically motivated and an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military’s seizure of power while keeping her from returning to politics. All her trials have been held in closed courts.
Friday’s ruling by the special court at the prison in the capital, Naypyitaw, was conveyed by a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities, who have restricted the release of information about Suu Kyi’s trials. He said all the defendants appeared in good health.
He said that ousted President Win Myint and the former minister of the president’s office, Min Thu, both co-defendants in the election fraud case, each received sentences of three years. All three received prison terms with labor, a category of punishment that can include hard labor, such as road building, but in this case does not, he said. Lawyers will file appeals in the coming days, he added.
The election fraud charge against Suu Kyi was filed in November by the Election Commission, whose members were replaced by the military after it seized power.
It charged that Suu Kyi and her colleagues violated provisions in the constitution by allegedly influencing the old commission.
The military-appointed commission accused them of being “involved in electoral processes, election fraud and lawless actions” related to the election.
The commission claimed it has found more than 11 million irregularities in voter lists that could have let voters cast multiple ballots or commit other fraud.
In separate proceedings, Suu Kyi is being tried on the charge of violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, and seven counts of corruption charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 15 years each.