On Wednesday, April 27, a court in junta-controlled Myanmar sentenced former state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to five years in prison after finding her guilty of corruption. The 76-year-old former leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) has been in detention since the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021.
The military has accused Suu Kyi of charges including election fraud, violating the Official Secrets Act, and several other offenses that could potentially lead to her being behind bars for decades. The court on Wednesday convicted her of accepting 11.4 kg gold bars and cash worth USD 600,000 from former Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein. This is the first in 11 corruption cases against her.
The verdict against Suu Kyi is being seen as a political strategy adopted by the junta to crush all voices that could challenge its control.
On April 17, the ruling junta announced the release of around 1,619 prisoners ahead of the Buddhist new year on “humanitarian grounds.” However, there was no political prisoner on the list. Many believe this general amnesty to be a bid to clear the negative image of the military, which is accused of human rights violations and use of brutal force to suppress opposition to its rule.
According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has documented the rights violations following the February 2021 coup, the military has arrested at least 13,282 people including trade unionists, journalists, activists and civilians, and killed over 1,756 opponents since its takeover of power. At least 320,000 people have been internally displaced within one year. Among those arrested, as many as 100 people have been sentenced to death including two minors.
The military continues to face strong opposition to its legitimacy – from peaceful protest movements to armed resistance. These have been met with a violent response from the junta forces. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that junta abuses like bombarding civilian areas with airstrikes, mass killings, torture and use of violence against peaceful protesters amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Arrests of activists continue despite international condemnation and pressure on the military to uphold human rights. In many cases, state forces have taken into custody family members after failing to get hold of the activists themselves. As per Amnesty, in one instance, police allegedly arrested a 94-year-old mother of one politician. A four-year-old daughter was also taken in place of an activist.
Activists have informed rights groups about being threatened, cornered and facing constant surveillance. They have reported being followed by civilian informants or security personnel wearing civilian clothes and driving unmarked vehicles.
Myat Min Khant of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions claims that “the military and police roam streets disguised as fruit sellers or trishaw, motorcycle, or taxi drivers and embed themselves among the people to surveil anyone daring to express dissent.”