Aung San Suu Kyi’s jail sentence has been halved to two years, Myanmar state television has announced, following a trial that has drawn international criticism and calls for democracy to be respected.
Earlier on Monday it was reported that she had been sentenced to four years in prison after being found guilty of “incitement” and breaching Covid-19 safety protocols.
The last democratically elected leader of Myanmar, who was ousted in a military coup in February this year, is facing a total of 11 charges, which her supporters and lawyers say are politically motivated.
A court jailed Suu Kyi on Monday for two years each under the two charges brought under the natural disasters law of Myanmar and “incitement”, a legal official said.
President Win Myint was also sentenced to four years’ detention, Myanmar’s state-run broadcaster MRTV reported.
Both Suu Kyi and Win Myint will serve their sentences where they are currently being detained, an undisclosed location, suggesting they will not be sent to prison.
The sentencing has been condemned internationally, including by the UK and US governments.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss said the jailing was another “appalling attempt” by the regime to stifle opposition.
“The United Kingdom calls on the regime to release political prisoners, engage in dialogue and allow a return to democracy. The arbitrary detention of elected politicians only risks further unrest.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the conviction was “unjust” and called for the release of Suu Kyi and other detained elected officials.
China, which borders Myanmar, called on all parties to “bridge their differences”.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the conviction followed “a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court” and was “nothing but politically motivated”.
The National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG), a shadow civilian government that has asked to represent the country at the UN, called it a “shameful day”. Dr Sasa, the NUG’s spokesperson, called for an escalation of international sanctions against the military.
“Today is a shameful day for the rule of law, justice and accountability in Myanmar. The brutal military junta has today confirmed that they see themselves as above the law,” Dr Sasa said in a statement.
The spokesperson said that the “global community must further target sanctions against the military, their personnel, the businesses they own, and any known affiliates and intermediaries”.
Condemning the verdict, the European Union called the decision “politically motivated”.
It called for the “immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners as well as those arbitrarily detained since the coup”, said Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy.
Historian Thant Myint-U said: “Removing Aung San Suu Kyi from politics isn’t a byproduct of the coup, it was the entire reason for the coup.”
The incitement charges against Suu Kyi, for allegedly spreading inflammatory information, relate to a Facebook post shared on her National League for Democracy party’s page after she and other party leaders were detained by the armed forces.
The other charge of breaching coronavirus guidelines was from an election campaign held in November last year.
Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since February this year when the military unseated her civilian administration citing election irregularities.
Independent observers said a general election in November last year was largely fair.
Myanmar has been under the rule of the country’s army general since then, throwing the Asian nation into domestic turmoil.
Suu Kyi, 76, was taken into custody on the day the military took over and has not been seen in public since then. However, she has been present in court for several of her trials.
The special court’s verdict on Monday will now likely prevent the Nobel Laureate from running in the next general election and from establishing a second term in office as Myanmar’s constitution bans anyone who is jailed on grounds of conviction for a crime from entering the high office or becoming a lawmaker.
As the details of Suu Kyi’s trials remain prohibited from the media and spectators, the special court’s verdict was shared by a legal official requesting anonymity.
With the elected leader now in prison, Myanmar is grappling with domestic tension and military violence as citizens have been protesting against forced military rule for 10 months.
The protests have resulted in the deaths of at least 1,300 civilians, according to a tally by nonprofit Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
UN experts have warned of Myanmar slowly slipping into civil war as it stares at a growing armed resistance in major parts of the countryside.
On Sunday, the southeast Asian country saw protest marches against military rule, with hundreds seeking the release of Suu Kyi and other imprisoned members of her administration.
At least five people were killed and several were injured after an army truck rammed into a protest march in Yangon.
Demonstrators in the largest city, Yangon, risked arrest to stage a flash protest following the verdict on Monday. Images show a small group giving three-fingered salutes that signal opposition to the junta.
A second verdict that could increase Suu Kyi’s imprisonment term is scheduled for 14 December – the maximum punishment for an individual charge is three years’ jail term and a fine.
She also faces several other charges, including over cases of allegedly covering up the unregistered import and use of walkie talkies by her security guards, four corruption charges, including accepting bribes, and abuse of officials and alleged violations of the Officials Secrets Act.
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