Live Updates: Myanmar Court Sentences Aung San Suu Kyi to 4 Years in Initial Verdicts
A protester holding a poster with an image of the detained civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar, in March.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A court in Myanmar on Monday sentenced the country’s ousted civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to four years on charges of inciting public unrest and breaching Covid-19 protocols. She is facing a series of rulings that could keep her locked up for the rest of her life.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in a military coup in February, is facing a total of 11 charges and a maximum imprisonment of 102 years.
Her trials, which the United Nations and foreign governments have described as politically motivated, have been held in closed-door hearings in Naypyidaw, Myanmar‘s capital. The junta has barred all five of her lawyers from speaking to the news media, saying that their communications could “destabilize the country.”
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, is a flawed hero for a troubled nation.
She is held up as an almost godlike figure among her supporters in Myanmar, who describe her as a defender of the country’s democracy — a struggle for which she won a Nobel Peace Prize. But her reputation on the international stage was tarnished over her complicity in the military’s mass atrocities against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group.
On Sunday morning, a military truck plowed into a group of protesters who were carrying banners bearing her portrait and quotations of hers on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s most populous city, causing fatalities. At night, protesters continued to demonstrate in the streets, and residents banged pots and pans to register their anger.
Protesters taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Sunday.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
In the months since the coup, people have gathered in the streets, doctors and nurses have stopped work in protest, and many have refused to pay taxes in a campaign known as the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Despite the threat of arrest, there is still widespread support for the movement. A growing number of soldiers are defecting, teaming up with armed protesters and insurgent groups to launch hit-and-run attacks against the military.
The junta has responded by cracking down — it has killed more than 1,300 people and arrested more than 10,600 others, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a rights organization based in Thailand.
For many of her supporters, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was seen as the only politician who could lead Myanmar toward full democracy.
After a previous coup, in 1962, the military ruled the country for half a century. When Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was elected in 2015, she was forced to share power with the army, which appointed 25 percent of Parliament. In November 2020, she led her party to a landslide election victory, trouncing the military-backed opposition party.
She has not been seen in public or been able to speak to anyone aside from her lawyers since she was detained on Feb. 1. Just hours before she and her colleagues from the National League of Democracy Party were to take their seats in Parliament, military officers detained them, accusing them of voter fraud. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has denied the charge.
Rights activists have condemned the charge of incitement, saying that it is used to intimidate critics of the military. It carries a maximum sentence of three years and states that anyone who “publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report” with “intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public” could be found liable.
The charge of breaching Covid-19 protocols stems from an episode during the 2020 election campaign in which Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi stood outside, in a face mask and face shield, and waved to supporters passing by in vehicles. She faces a maximum sentence of three years for the charge.
Prosecutors have continued to slap more charges on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi as her case proceeded. The verdicts rendered on Monday are the first of several that are expected to be announced in the coming months.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being tried on a slew of charges, including corruption and violating the Official Secrets Act, in addition to the one count of inciting public unrest.
She faces a maximum possible sentence of 102 years in prison if found guilty on all 11 counts she has been charged with so far. Her supporters say the charges are manufactured to remove her permanently from politics.
The five lawyers representing her have been placed under a highly unusual gag order prohibiting them from talking publicly about her case.
Five of the charges accuse her of engaging in corruption, including by accepting bribes in cash and gold. She has called those charges “absurd.”
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and the ousted president, U Win Myint, are expected to face one count of corruption alleging that they benefited from the government’s acquisition and rental of a helicopter. The regime has filed a complaint with the police, but Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. Win Myint have not been formally charged. This count would bring the number of criminal charges against her to 12.
She is being tried separately on a single charge of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which prohibits sharing state information that could be useful to an enemy. Her co-defendants in that case are former finance officials and her Australian economic policy adviser, Sean Turnell, suggesting that the charges involve government expenditures.
Myanmar’s election commission, which has been taken over by the regime, announced this month that it would be bring charges of electoral fraud against her and 15 other leaders of the National League for Democracy, her party. This case will be handled separately from her criminal trials and could result in the party being banned from participating in future elections. It could also result in more criminal charges against her.
The court was also expected to deliver a verdict on two counts of violating Covid-19 protocols. Those charges stem from an episode during the 2020 election campaign in which she stood outside, in a face mask and face shield, with her dog, Taichito, at her side, and waved to supporters passing by in vehicles. A video of the scene shows masked aides and security staff standing nearby, but socially distanced.
Closing arguments on two counts of illegally possessing and importing walkie-talkies are scheduled for next month. Her defense says the devices belonged to her security team, not her. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is being kept under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw, and tried in a special courtroom that was constructed in the living room of another house.
The Myanmar court hearing the case of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was expected to deliver verdicts Monday against two of her longtime allies who are also charged with inciting public unrest.
Her two co-defendants, Myanmar’s ousted president, U Win Myint, and U Myo Aung, the ousted mayor of the capital city, Naypyidaw, were accused of sharing responsibility for two letters sent after the coup by the National League for Democracy urging the international community not to recognize the regime and declaring all laws enacted by the junta to be illegal.
The defense argued that the three defendants could not be held culpable for the letters since all three were in custody at the time the letters were sent.
Mr. Win Myint, 70, assumed the presidency in 2018 after he was chosen by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is constitutionally barred from holding that office.
He testified during the trial that after his arrest, two army officers demanded he resign on the grounds of ill health and warned him that refusing would cause trouble. He said he told them he would rather die.
A verdict was expected on one count alleging that the former president violated Covid-19 protocols by standing outside in a face mask and face shield while waving to supporters passing by in vehicles. He denies violating any health rules.
Based on a complaint filed by the regime with the police, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. Win Myint are expected to face one count of corruption alleging that they benefited from the government’s acquisition and rental of a helicopter.
Mr. Myo Aung, a 70-year-old physician who was appointed mayor in 2016 by former President Htin Kyaw, lived next door to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw. When he saw military vehicles outside her house on the morning of the coup, he went to check on her and was arrested.
He is also a co-defendant with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in her ongoing corruption trial. He is accused of granting permission to build on land in the capital in exchange for money that was then given to National League for Democracy candidates, state media reported. He denies the charge.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi led her party, the National League for Democracy, to three landslide election victories, but two of them were annulled by the military, and she has spent 16 of the last 32 years under house arrest.
Here are some of the major events in her life:
June 19, 1945 — Born to Daw Khin Kyi and Gen. Aung San, founder of Myanmar’s army and considered father of the country.
July 19, 1947 — Gen. Aung San is assassinated at age 32.
1960 — Moves to India when her mother is named ambassador. Goes on to attend the University of Oxford, where she meets Michael Aris, a Tibet scholar. They marry and have two sons.
1988 — Returns to Burma to help care for her dying mother and is swept up in the democracy movement.
Aug. 26, 1988 — Gives her first public speech to a crowd of more than half a million at the landmark Shwedagon Pagoda, catapulting her into the movement’s leadership.
Sept. 27, 1988 — Co-founds the National League for Democracy and is named general secretary.
July 20, 1989 — The military places her under house arrest.
November 1990 — The N.L.D. wins 82 percent of Parliament’s seats. The military annuls the election.
1991 — Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
1995 — Is released from house arrest but kept under travel restrictions.
March 1999 — Refuses to leave Myanmar to see her husband before he dies of cancer in Oxford, knowing she would be barred from returning.
2000 — Is placed under house arrest and released two years later.
May 30, 2003 — Her convoy is attacked and dozens of her supporters are killed. She is placed under house arrest.
2008 — The military adopts a new Constitution that paves the way for future elections but prohibits her from becoming president because her sons are foreign citizens.
November 2010 — The N.L.D. boycotts the first national elections held in two decades. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is released soon after.
April 2012 — She is elected to Parliament in a by-election. The N.L.D. wins 43 of the 45 seats.
November 2015 — She leads the N.L.D. to election victory, winning 80 percent of Parliament’s available seats. Takes the title of state counselor and says the president will report to her.
2017 — Myanmar’s military conducts ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, killing thousands and driving more than 700,000 across the border to Bangladesh. International critics call for her to return her Nobel Peace Prize because of her refusal to criticize the military.
November 2020 — Leads her party to an election landslide for the third time, winning 82 percent of Parliament’s available seats.
Feb. 1, 2021 — Before the new Parliament can be sworn in, the military stages a coup and places her under house arrest.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has long been a source of frustration among Myanmar’s military, so much so that it kept her under house arrest for nearly 15 years until 2010.
Analysts say the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has resented her overwhelming popularity among the people. In 2015, when the country held national elections, her party, the National League of Democracy, won in a landslide victory.
A year later, the N.L.D. introduced a bill in Parliament to create a new post for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi as state counselor. This move was seen as a direct challenge to the Tatmadaw because it circumvented the country’s Constitution, which was written by the generals and barred candidates for Myanmar’s presidency from having close family members who “owe allegiance to a foreign power.” (Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was married to a British man, who is now deceased, and has two sons, who live abroad.)
As state counselor, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi declared herself above the president and named herself foreign minister, a move that the military saw as a power grab.
Political experts say Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has always had a frosty relationship with the Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who orchestrated the February coup that removed her from power. For years, the two leaders sent messages through an intermediary, “like embittered divorces,” according to David Mathieson, a veteran analyst on Myanmar.
But during her time in power, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was criticized for being too deferential to the generals — she characterized her relationship with the military as “not that bad” and said the generals in her cabinet were “quite sweet.” In 2019, she infamously defended the army’s 2017 crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority at The Hague, angering the international community.
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the Myanmar junta that seized power Feb. 1, has long been Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s adversary.
For five years, the two leaders were part of an uneasy power-sharing arrangement in which she headed the civilian side of government and Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the army commander in chief, maintained absolute control over the military, the police and the border guards.
The two rarely spoke to each other.
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is known to be highly ambitious and unwilling to give up power. He faced mandatory retirement in 2016 when he turned 60 but extended his tenure for five years. Soon after the coup, and just before he turned 65, he scrapped the mandatory retirement age for the commander in chief altogether. Many believed he wanted to become president.
While a cadet at the military academy, he was known for bullying his juniors and for his tendency to criticize and blame others. His contemporaries gave him a nickname meaning cat feces, an especially vulgar epithet in Burmese.
In 2009, the troops he led in northeastern Myanmar drove tens of thousands of people from ethnic enclaves in what locals described as a brutal campaign of murder, rape and systematic arson.
As commander in chief, he oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingya in 2017 that killed thousands and forced more than 700,000 to flee the country. He is said to be a tough negotiator who has maintained a strong grip on the armed forces.
In 2008, the previous military regime adopted a Constitution that was devised to keep the presidency in the hands of military leaders. It gives the army commander in chief the power to appoint 25 percent of Parliament and gives Parliament the power to choose the president.
It also barred anyone from becoming president who has a spouse or a child who is a citizen of a foreign country. The provision clearly targeted Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi: her husband was a British citizen, as are her two sons.
But that hasn’t been enough of a head start for the hugely unpopular General Min Aung Hlaing to win. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy crushed the military-backed party in 2015 by winning 80 percent of Parliament’s nonappointed seats. In 2020, she repeated the feat, winning by an even greater margin.
Thwarted at the polls, the general declared her election victory to be fraudulent and led a coup on Feb. 1, hours before the new Parliament was scheduled to be sworn in.
Early that morning, soldiers and the police arrested Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other party leaders. She has been detained ever since.