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Backlash seen in Suu Kyi's 'sham trial'

The ousted Myanmar leader's conviction and sentencing will likely only deepen opposition to the ruling junta's military coup, the U.N. human rights chief said.

Protesters in Yangon call on Myanmar's military to free Aung San Suu Kyi
Protesters in Yangon call on Myanmar's military to free Aung San Suu Kyi (AN/Saw Wunna)

GENEVA (AN) — Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's conviction and sentencing on Monday by a military-controlled court will only deepen opposition to the ruling junta, the United Nations' human rights chief said.

Myanmar's de facto civilian leader, State Counsellor Suu Kyi, was detained in early morning raids on February 1 when the military staged a coup against her and other leaders of her National League for Democracy party just as parliament was set to reconvene. Since then, Myanmar's generals have engaged in a bloody crackdown that has given rise to a shadow government and fears of civil war.

Suu Kyi was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison on charges of incitement and breaking COVID-19 rules. The 76-year-old Nobel laureate still faces further charges of corruption and electoral fraud.

“The conviction of the State Counsellor following a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court is nothing but politically-motivated," said Michelle Bachelet, head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, at Geneva. “It is not only about arbitrary denial of her freedom — it closes yet another door to political dialogue.”

Hardening positions

Since the coup, the military known as the Tatmadaw has arbitrarily detained more than 10,000 opponents arbitrarily and at least 175 people, including many NLD members, have reportedly died in custody due to ill-treatment or torture, OHCHR said. Bachelet, a former president of Chile whose political activism began with her family's opposition to the military-led coup in her home country in 1973, called for the immediate release of all who have been arbitrarily detained.

“The military is attempting to instrumentalize the courts to remove all political opposition. But these cases cannot provide a legal veneer to the illegitimacy of the coup and military rule," Bachelet said. “This verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi will only deepen rejection of the coup. It will harden positions when what is needed is dialogue and a peaceful, political settlement of this crisis.”

Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, said the court decision is part of the nation's pattern of arbitrary punishment that includes 1,300 people killed and thousands arrested since the military coup in February.

“There are many detainees without the profile of Aung San Suu Kyi who currently face the terrifying prospect of years behind bars simply for peacefully exercising their human rights. They must not be forgotten and left to their fate," she said. “As violence escalates, displacing tens of thousands of people and setting up a humanitarian crisis in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, the situation in Myanmar today is alarming in the extreme. Without a decisive, unified and swift international response this can and will get worse."