BANGKOK – A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on more corruption charges on Monday, adding six years to her earlier 11-year prison sentence, a legal official said.
The trial was held behind closed doors, with no access for media or the public, and her lawyers were forbidden by a gag order from revealing information about the proceedings.
In the four corruption cases decided Monday, Suu Kyi was alleged to have abused her position to rent public land at below market prices and to have built a residence with donations meant for charitable purposes. She received sentences of three years for each of the four counts, but the sentences for three of them will be served concurrently, giving her a total of six more years in prison.
She denied all the charges, and her lawyers are expected to appeal.
She already had been sentenced to 11 years in prison on sedition, corruption and other charges at earlier trials after the military ousted her elected government and detained her in February 2021.
Analysts say the numerous charges against her and her allies are an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power while eliminating her from politics before the military holds an election it has promised for next year.
Suu Kyi and her co-defendants have denied all the allegations and their lawyers are expected to file appeals in the coming days, said the legal official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to release information and feared punishment by the authorities.
Other top members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party and her government have also been arrested and imprisoned, and the authorities have suggested they might dissolve the party before the next election. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a civil society organization, says more than 12,000 people are in detention after being seized by the security forces.
“The more the terrorist military council deliberately imprisons people’s leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with various arbitrary charges, the stronger the people’s determination to destroy the military dictator becomes,” said Tun Myint, a member of the underground central working committee of Suu Kyi's party.
The army seized power and detained Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021, the day when her party would have started a second-five year term in office after it won a landslide victory in a November 2020 general election. The army said it acted because there had been massive voting fraud, but independent election observers did not find any major irregularities.
The army’s takeover sparked peaceful nationwide street protests that security forces quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some U.N. experts now characterize as civil war. The military government has been accused of human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests and killings, torture, and military sweeps that include air attacks on civilians and the burning of entire villages.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says it has verified that 2,191 pro-democracy activists and other civilians have been killed in crackdowns by the military, though the actual total is probably much higher.
Suu Kyi, 77, has been the face of opposition to military rule in Myanmar for more than three decades. She won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest.
Her five years as its civilian government leader were marked by repression and military dominance even though it was Myanmar’s most democratic period since a 1962 coup.
Suu Kyi has been charged with a total of 11 counts under the Anti-Corruption Act, with each count punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine.
In Monday’s verdicts, the legal official said Suu Kyi received a three-year prison sentence for building a residence for herself in Naypyitaw, allegedly with money donated for a charitable foundation named after her mother that she chaired.
She received a three-year sentence for allegedly taking advantage of her position to rent property in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, for the same foundation, the official said.
The two other cases decided Monday involved parcels of land in Naypyitaw for which she allegedly abused her authority to rent at below market prices for the foundation. She received a sentence of three years for each of those cases.
The three cases pertaining to offenses in Naypyitaw are to be served concurrently.
The former mayor of Naypyitaw, Myo Aung, was a co-defendant in both cases relating to granting permits to rent the land. Ye Min Oo, the former vice mayor, is a co-defendant in one case and Min Thu, a former member of the Naypyitaw Development Committee, in the other. Each received sentences of three years.
The government Anti-Corruption Commission, which filed the case, had alleged that the rental fees agreed upon by the Naypyitaw Development Committee were lower than the rate fixed by the Ministry of Planning and Finance, so that the rental agreement deprived the state of revenue it should have received.
The European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell Fontelles, called for Suu Kyi's immediate release.
“I condemn the unjust sentence of Aung San Suu Kyi to an additional six years of detention, and call on the regime in #Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release her, as well as all political prisoners, and respect the will of the people,” he tweeted.