News Myanmar jailing Aung San Suu Kyi is ‘deeply concerning’, Australian government says

Myanmar jailing Aung San Suu Kyi is ‘deeply concerning’, Australian government says

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Australia has joined the US in calling for the release of Myanmar’s deposed democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been sentenced to at least two years in detention.

“The sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi is deeply concerning,” a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said.

“Australia continues to call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained in Myanmar, and for a return to the path of democratic transition as soon as possible.

“Australia has been a longstanding supporter of Myanmar and its democratic transition.”

A special court in Myanmar’s capital sentenced the ousted leader to four years in prison after finding her guilty of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions.

The sentencing was the first in a series of cases in which the 76-year-old Nobel laureate is being prosecuted since the army seized power on February 1, preventing her National League for Democracy party from starting a second five-year term in office.

The chair of Norway’s Nobel Prize awards committee said the country’s military rulers are suppressing the opposition.

“The legal process against Aung San Suu Kyi appears to have low credibility,” Berit Reiss-Andersen said in a statement to Reuters on Tuesday morning.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has dedicated her life to the fight for freedom and democracy in Myanmar and has faced this demanding situation for more than 30 years.

“The Nobel committee is worried by what her imprisonment will mean for the future of democracy in Myanmar.”

The incitement case involved statements posted on Suu Kyi’s party’s Facebook page after she and other party leaders had already been detained by the military, while the coronavirus charge involved a campaign appearance ahead of elections in November last year which her party overwhelmingly won.

The army claimed massive voting fraud, but independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities.

The court’s ruling was conveyed by a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities.

Suu Kyi’s trials are closed to the media and spectators, and her lawyers, who had been the sole source of information on the proceedings, were served with gag orders in October forbidding them from releasing information.

The cases against Suu Kyi are widely seen as contrived to discredit her and keep her from running in the next election. The constitution bars anyone sent to prison after being convicted of a crime from holding high office or becoming a lawmaker.

The verdicts in Suu Kyi’s first two cases, on incitement – for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information that could disturb public order – and violating the Natural Disaster Management Law for allegedly breaching coronavirus restrictions, were supposed to be delivered last Tuesday.

However, the court postponed its ruling with no explanation.

Suu Kyi’s lawyers sought vigorously to have the incitement charge dismissed.

The prosecution’s evidence consisted of statements posted on a Facebook page of Suu Kyi’s party.

Defence lawyers argued that Suu Kyi and a co-defendant, former President Win Myint, could not be held responsible for the statements, which criticised the takeover and suggested in broad terms that it be resisted, because they were already in detention.

The former mayor of Naypyitaw, Myo Aung, was another defendant in the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine.

Win Myint was sentenced to a total of four years and Myo Aung to two years.

Judgment on Suu Kyi’s second count of violating coronavirus restrictions is scheduled for December 14.

The maximum penalty for each count is three years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Other cases against Suu Kyi now being tried cover the alleged unregistered import and use of walkie-talkies by her security guards; violation of the Official Secrets Act, in which jailed Australian economist Sean Turnell is a co-defendant; and four separate corruption charges covering the alleged acceptance of a bribe and abuse of office to obtain favorable terms on property transactions.

Each of the corruption charges has a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

A trial on a fifth corruption charge has not yet started, and state media last week announced a sixth charge has also been filed against Suu Kyi.

The latest charge accuses her and Win Myint of corruption in granting permits to rent and buy a helicopter.

In mid-November, the military-appointed election commission announced it intended to prosecute Suu Kyi and 15 other senior political figures for alleged fraud in the last election, which could result in her party being dissolved.

-with AAP