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Myanmar’s Suu Kyi sentenced to 4 more years in prison

A Myanmar court sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to another four years in prison on Monday after she was found guilty of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies and violating coronavirus restrictions, a legal official said.

Suu Kyi was convicted last month of two other charges and sentenced to four years in prison, which was then reduced by the head of the army-installed government in half.

The cases are among dozens of cases brought against the 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate since the military seized power last February, toppling her elected government and arresting prominent members of the National League for Democracy.

If convicted on all charges, she could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say the charges against her are aimed at legitimizing the military’s power grab and preventing her from returning to politics.

The United Nations called again for the release of Suu Kyi and all those arbitrarily detained since last February’s coup.

“All political prisoners must be released, and this is clearly not a step in the right direction,” UN intelligence chief Stephane Dujarric told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York.

Monday’s ruling was conveyed in the capital’s Naypyitaw Court, by a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution from the authorities, who have imposed restrictions on the release of information about Suu Kyi’s trials.

He said she was sentenced to two years in prison under the Export-Import Law for importing radios and one year under the Communications Law for possessing them. The sentences are presented simultaneously. She was also sentenced to two years in prison under the Natural Disaster Management Act for allegedly violating coronavirus rules while campaigning.

Suu Kyi was convicted last month of two other charges – incitement and breaching COVID-19 restrictions – and sentenced to four years in prison. Hours after the ruling, the head of the army-installed government, General Min Aung Hlaing, cut it in half.

The Suu Ky party won a landslide victory in the 2020 general election, but the military claimed widespread electoral fraud, an assertion that independent polling observers have disputed.

Since the first conviction was handed down, Suu Ky has attended court sessions in prison clothes – a white blouse and a long brown skirt provided by the authorities. She is being held by the military at an unknown location, where state television reported last month that she would be serving her sentence.

Sessions are closed to the media and spectators and prosecutors do not comment. Her lawyers, who were the source of information on the proceedings, were issued with gag orders in October.

The military-installed government has not allowed any outside party to meet with Suu Kyi since she seized power, despite international pressure to hold talks including with her that could ease the violent political crisis in the country.

A special envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, will not be allowed to meet with her. The refusal received a rare reprimand from fellow members, who prevented Min Aung Hlaing from attending his annual summit meeting.

Even Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who took over as this year’s regional group chief and advocates outreach to the ruling generals, failed to meet her last week when he became the first prime minister to visit Myanmar since the military seized power.

The military takeover was soon met with nonviolent demonstrations across the country, which security forces suppressed with lethal force, killing more than 1,400 civilians, according to a detailed list compiled by the Association for the Aid of Political Prisoners.

Peaceful protests continued, but in the midst of heavy repression, armed resistance also grew, to the point that UN experts warned the country could slide into civil war.

“The Myanmar Military Council’s circus of secret proceedings on bogus charges is about steadily accumulating more convictions against Aung San Suu Kyi so that she will remain in prison indefinitely,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Min Aung Hlaing and junta leaders continue to view it as a major political threat that must be permanently neutralized.”

“Once again, Aung San Suu Kyi has become a symbol of what is happening to her country and has returned to the role of the political pawn of an army bent on seizing power using intimidation and violence,” Robertson said in a statement. “Fortunately for her and the future of Myanmar, the Myanmar People’s Movement has grown beyond the leadership of one woman and only one political party.”

Immediately after the military seizure of power, Suu Kyi was accused of improperly importing radios, which served as the initial justification for her continued detention. A second charge of illegal possession of radios was filed the following month.

Radios were seized from the entrance gate of her home and her bodyguards’ barracks during a search on February 1, the day she was arrested.

Suu Kyi’s lawyers argued that the radios were not in her personal possession and were used legally to help provide her security, but the court refused to dismiss the charges.

She was charged with two counts of violating coronavirus restrictions during the 2020 election campaign. She was found guilty on the first count last month.

She is also being tried before the same court on five charges of corruption. The maximum penalty for each charge is 15 years in prison and a fine. The sixth corruption charge against her and ousted president Win Myint in connection with the granting of permits to lease and purchase a helicopter has yet to be prosecuted.

In separate proceedings, she was charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

The Myanmar Election Commission also added additional charges against Suu Kyi and 15 other politicians in November for alleged fraud in the 2020 elections. The charges brought by the military-appointed Union Election Commission may lead to the dissolution of Suu Kyi’s party and its inability to participate in new elections promised The army said it would take place within two years of seizing power.

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