FILE - Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi leaves the International Court of Justice after the first day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
A court in military-ruled Myanmar has found the country’s former leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of corruption.
The court sentenced Suu Kyi to five years in prison Wednesday in the first of several corruption cases against her.
Suu Kyi was ousted by an army takeover in February of last year. She has denied accusations that she had accepted gold and hundreds of thousands of dollars given to her as a bribe by a top political official.
Both her supporters and independent legal experts consider her prosecution unjust. They believe it is an attempt to discredit Suu Kyi and legitimize the military’s seizure of power. The court ruling also prevents the 76-year-old elected leader from returning to political office.
Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, Myanmar's founding leader. She became famous in 1988 during a failed uprising against an earlier military government. She spent 15 of the next 21 years under house arrest for leading a nonviolent movement for democracy.
The army permitted an election in 2015 in which her party won a large victory. She then became the leader of the country.
However, Suu Kyi has also been criticized for ignoring human rights violations. She has defended a 2017 military campaign against Rohingya Muslims. Rights groups have called it genocide.
She has already been sentenced to six years in prison in other cases. She faces 10 more corruption charges. The most severe punishment possible under the Anti-Corruption Act is 15 years in prison and a fine. If she is convicted in other cases, she could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.
Moe Thuzar is with the Yusof Ishak Institute, a Southeast Asian studies center in Singapore. He said the charges are only believable to the court and the military’s supporters.
“Even if there were any legitimate concerns or complaints about corruption…enforced military rule (is) certainly not the way to pursue such concerns."
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a large victory in the 2020 general election. But the army seized power on February 1, 2021. The military arrested Suu Kyi and many officials in her party and government. The army said it took power because there had been widespread fraud in the election. But independent election observers said they did not find any major evidence of fraud.
Afterwards, there were large protests nationwide, which security forces crushed. The rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said the campaign led to the deaths of almost 1,800 civilians. Now some United Nations experts say the country is in a state of civil war.
In an earlier case, Suu Kyi was sentenced to six years in prison for illegally importing and owning mobile communications devices. She has also been found guilty of violating coronavirus restrictions and sedition.
In the case decided Wednesday, she was accused of receiving $600,000 and seven gold bars from the former chief minister of Yangon. That is the country’s biggest city. The chief minster was also a top member of her political party. Her lawyers denied all charges he made against her.
The nine other cases are currently being tried under the Anti-Corruption Act. They include several related to the purchase of an aircraft by one of Suu Kyi’s former Cabinet members.
Suu Kyi is also being tried on a charge of violating the Official Secrets Act and on a charge claiming election fraud.
Phil Robertson is the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. He said: “Destroying popular democracy in Myanmar also means getting rid of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the junta is leaving nothing to chance.”
Words in This Story
bribe — v. to give something valuable, like money, to an official in order to get them to do something that is dishonest or illegal
prosecution — n. the act or process of trying someone in a court of law to see if they are guilty of a crime they are charged with
legitimize — v. to make something acceptable, real or official
convict — n. to prove someone is guilty of a crime in a court of law
pursue — v. to make an effort to find out more about an issue or to do something about it
fraud — n. the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person
sedition –n. the crime of saying, writing, or doing something that encourages people to disobey their government
junta — n. a group of military officers who control a government after taking control of it by force