October 20222022Asia

Former Myanmar Leader’s Prison Term Extend over Corruption Charges

Megan Gawron

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s democratically elected leader ousted in last year’s military takeover, was convicted on two additional corruption charges on October 12, according to The Associated Press.

The new corruption charges, which accuse Suu Kyi of taking a $550,000 bribe, bring her jail sentence from 23 years to 26 years. Bloomberg explains that since the military junta assumed power in February 2021, Suu Kyi has faced charges ranging from the illegal possession of walkie-talkies to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, remains on trial for five more corruption charges.

The most recent charges were filed after allegations of corruption by a prominent businessperson who had previously served a prison sentence for drug possession and trafficking. The businessperson alleged that he frequently delivered cash bribes to Suu Kyi’s home in exchange for her giving preference to his company’s government tenders, or contract bids, according to Al Jazeera. Suu Kyi’s legal team is expected to appeal the decision.

While the businessperson was widely viewed as a questionable witness in Myanmar, the accusations were broadcast on the state-owned television network, Myanmar TV, in what Al Jazeera perceives as an attempt to publicly undermine Suu Kyi’s political credibility. The charges against Suu Kyi have the potential to block her from politically challenging the junta.

The military junta has promised to hold an election in 2023, according to NPR. Suu Kyi has little opportunity to influence these elections, however, due to her inability to address the public. Since she was arrested in February 2021, Suu Kyi has not been seen or heard by the public. Reuters explains that this was made more extreme in October of last year when Khin Maung Zaw, Suu Kyi’s head lawyer, revealed the junta had also imposed a gag order on his communications with the public about Suu Kyi.

The gag order details the junta’s claims that Maung Zaw’s rhetoric could “cause riots and [destabilize] the public peace,” Reuters continues. The order also claimed that his communications had made it to “illegal media outlets” that were spreading false information about the junta, Suu Kyi, and the trials. Maung Zaw was known to provide information on Suu Kyi’s trial and well-being.

The gag order is just one of many difficulties Suu Kyi’s legal team has faced while representing her against a myriad of charges. Myanmar Now reveals that the legal team of The National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s party, has been representing her, but defense lawyers are frequently barred from court and the team has struggled to transfer power of attorney.

Suu Kyi’s case is the most prominent in Myanmar, but she is far from the only person experiencing a slew of charges in the wake of the junta’s takeover. In the past year, NPR reports that at least 15,821 civilians have been arrested and at least 2,343 civilians have been killed by Myanmar security forces. Arrested individuals include other leaders of the National League of Democracy, which won a majority in Parliament in 2020 that would have cemented civilian control over the country. However, members were prevented from assuming their positions by the military, which justified this move with an unsubstantiated claim of voting fraud. 

According to The Guardian, human rights groups estimate that over 12,600 people are currently being held by the military, including at least 40 journalists. Journalists, like politicians, have come under severe scrutiny by the junta. This scrutiny has triggered the repeated use of Myanmar’s Electronic Transactions Law, which prescribes a prison sentence of seven to 15 years for anyone who electronically transmits “any information relating to secrets of the security of the State.” The Committee to Protect Journalists, an American non-profit, has described this application of the law as outrageous and is calling for the release of detained journalists.

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