Yesterday in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally officially convicted. The former leader’s court proceedings have been widely criticized. International legal experts say the trial has been an effort by the country’s military rulers to undo recent gains for democracy. Now amid armed crackdowns and protests, some warn that the country may be sliding into civil war.
Monday’s conviction cements a dramatic blow for Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi. (See “Aung San Suu Kyi: A Life on Trial.”) But the verdict is only the first in a series of cases brought against 76-year-old Suu Kyi since her arrest on February 1. That date marks the day the army seized power and prevented her National League for Democracy party from starting a second term in office.
The army seized power claiming massive voting fraud in a November 2020 election, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide. Independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities.
Opposition to the military takeover sprang up almost immediately—with armed resistance spreading after the military’s violent crackdown on peaceful protests. Those crackdowns have already killed about 1,300 civilians. Now some U.N. experts warn of civil war.
Monday’s verdicts could inflame tensions even further.
Suu Kyi is being held by the military at an unknown location. If found guilty of all charges, Suu Kyi could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison there.
The cases against Suu Kyi are widely seen as contrived to discredit her and keep her from running in the next election.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called the proceedings a “sham trial.” Amnesty International claims it was “the latest example of the military’s determination to eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms in Myanmar.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, says the trial was the beginning of a process that “will most likely ensure that Suu Kyi is never allowed to be a free woman again.”
The United States joined others in calling for the release of Suu Kyi and others who are detained.
Suu Kyi is widely admired at home for her role in the country’s pro-democracy movement. The former civilian leader spent 15 years under house arrest for resisting the Southeast Asian nation’s generals but then agreed to work alongside them when they promised to usher in democratic rule.
She has been criticized globally for showing regard to the military while ignoring and, at times, even defending rights violations—most notably a 2017 crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. However, she remains immensely popular at home.
On Monday, Suu Kyi faced a charge of incitement because of statements on her party’s Facebook page. She was accused of spreading false or inflammatory information that could disturb public order. In addition, she was accused of violating coronavirus restrictions for her appearance at a campaign event ahead of the elections last year.
Defense lawyers are expected to file appeals in the coming days for Suu Kyi and two colleagues who were also convicted Monday. They have argued that Suu Kyi and a co-defendant, former President Win Myint, could not be held responsible for the statements on which the incitement charge was based. The two were already in detention when the statements were posted.
Already, yesterday’s four-year sentence was reduced to two. That occurred just hours after the initial sentencing, by order from the country’s military leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Decisions in other cases against Suu Kyi could come next week. They include the alleged unregistered import and use of walkie-talkies by her security guards, a violation of the Official Secrets Act, and alleged election fraud. The election charge could result in the disbanding of Suu Kyi’s party.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. — Proverbs 29:2
(Protesters hold portraits of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during an anti-coup demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, on March 5, 2021. AP)