BANGKOK — A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted the country’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption on Friday, sentencing her to seven years in prison in the last of a string of criminal cases against her, a source with direct knowledge of the proceedings confirmed to NBC News.
The court’s action leaves her with a total of 33 years to serve in prison after a series of what supporters say are politically tinged prosecutions since the army toppled her elected government in February 2021.
The case that ended Friday involved five offenses under the anti-corruption law and followed earlier convictions on seven other corruption counts, each of which was punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine.
The 77-year-old Suu Kyi has also been convicted of several other offenses, including illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, breaching the country’s official secrets act, sedition and election fraud.
Her previous convictions had landed her with a total of 26 years’ imprisonment.
Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say the numerous charges against her and her allies are an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power while eliminating her from politics before an election it has promised for 2023.
In the five counts of corruption decided Friday, Suu Kyi was alleged to have abused her position and caused a loss of state funds by neglecting to follow financial regulations in granting permission to Win Myat Aye, a Cabinet member in her former government, to hire, buy and maintain a helicopter.
Suu Kyi was the de facto head of government, holding the title of state counsellor. Win Myint, who was president in her government, was a co-defendant in the same case.
Suu Kyi received sentences of three years for each of four charges, to be served concurrently, and four years for the charge related to the helicopter purchase, for a total of seven years. Win Myint received the same sentences, said the source, who declined to be identified because Suu Kyi’s trials have been held behind closed doors, with information restricted.
Win Myat Aye, at the center of the case, escaped arrest and is now minister of humanitarian affairs and disaster management in the National Unity Government, established by the military’s opponents as a parallel administration by elected legislators who were barred from taking their seats when the army seized power last year. The military has declared NUG to be an outlawed “terrorist organization.”
The defendants denied all charges, and Suu Kyi’s lawyers are expected to appeal in the coming days.
“From start to finish, the junta grabbed whatever it could to manufacture cases against her with full confidence that the country’s kangaroo courts would come back with whatever punitive judgments the military wanted,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement. “Due process and a free and fair trial were never remotely possible under the circumstances of this political persecution against her.”
The end of the court cases against Suu Kyi, at least for now, raises the possibility that she could be allowed outside visitors, which she has been denied since she was detained.
The military government has repeatedly denied all requests to meet with her, including from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which seeks to help mediate an end to the crisis in Myanmar that some United Nations experts have characterized as a civil war because of the armed opposition to military rule.
The U.N. said in August that Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the head of Myanmar’s military-installed government, had “expressed openness to arranging a meeting at the right time” between Suu Kyi and U.N. special envoy Noeleen Heyzer.
A statement from the military government said: “Depending on the circumstances after the completion of the judiciary process, we will consider how to proceed.”
Due to her age, the 33 years in prison that Suu Kyi now faces “amount to an effective life sentence against her,” Robertson said.
“The Myanmar junta’s farcical, totally unjust parade of charges and convictions against Aung San Suu Kyi amount to politically motivated punishment designed to hold her behind bars for the rest of her life,” he said. “The convictions aim to both permanently sideline her, as well as undermine and ultimately negate her NLD party’s landslide victory in the November 2020 election.”
Allowing access to Suu Kyi has been a major demand of the many international critics of Myanmar’s military rulers, who have faced diplomatic and political sanctions for their human rights abuses and suppression of democracy.
The army’s takeover in 2021 set off widespread peaceful protests that security forces tried to crush with deadly force and that soon erupted into armed resistance.
Myanmar security forces have killed at least 2,685 civilians and arrested 16,651, according to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a nongovernmental organization that tracks killings and arrests.