Myanmar’s military junta has imposed prison sentences of up to 225 years on nearly 20 of its political opponents since taking power in a coup early last year, sending a clear warning to anyone who might dare challenge its rule.
The prisoners are either anti-coup activists, rebel fighters or members of the deposed National League for Democracy – once led by former State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi – which won landslide victories in 2015 and 2020 elections before the military took control in February 2021.
They have been convicted of terrorism and incitement – charges that military authorities say deserve harsh sentences. None of them have been shorter than 20 years.
Their lawyers say the sentences are a gross violation of their human rights – and of justice itself – and political retribution for speaking out against military rule.
“The unjust punishments are part of a lame attempt to plant fear in the minds of the people and hamper the revolution,” said Kyaw Zaw, a spokesman for shadow National Unity Government President Duwa Lashi La. “It shows that the rule of law in Myanmar is completely out of hand.”
Basic judicial principles hold that every judge who delivers a verdict in court is expected to consider a fair balance of crime and punishment, and impose punishments that not only protect society but are also intended to correct the behavior of the criminal, and to refrain from handing down spiteful punishments.
“Punishing someone for more than what he or she deserves is … a human rights violation,” said Ko Tun, a member of the Myanmar-based NGO Human Rights Initiative. “Handing down extremely long prison sentences after arbitrary arrests is the same as killing a prisoner or mentally executing them.”
A list of lengthy sentences
Suu Kyi, 77, has been charged with 19 counts since her arrest shortly after the coup. She has been sentenced to a total of 26 years in prison for 14 of them. Once an icon of democracy in Myanmar, Suu Kyi was detained in 1989 under the military State Peace and Development Council government and spent nearly 15 of the next 21 years under house arrest until her release in 2010.
Last month, the last five remaining cases of corruption, related to the buying and leasing of a helicopter, were filed against her at a prison court in the capital, Naypyidaw. They follow her sentencing, a week earlier, to three years each for two corruption charges involving accepting money from a businessman – sentences which she is to serve concurrently.
Last month, two members of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force paramilitary group were given sentences under the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law that far exceeded their expected lifespan.
Kyaw Thet, 30, was given 225 years, and Hnin Maung, 36, was given 95 years. They were also sentenced to death, meaning they would likely face execution in coming months.
The same day, another court sentenced Win Myint Hlaing, a 52-year-old former NLD lawmaker, to 148 years in prison following his conviction on eight terrorism charges. He had already been convicted earlier of five charges related to incitement and terrorism, and sentenced to 25 years in prison, bringing his total jail term to 173 years. Sources told RFA that some of the incidents for which he was convicted most recently took place while he was already in prison.
Former NLD Chief Minister for Kayin State Nang Khin Htwe Myint, 67, was given a 80-year term late last year for election fraud, corruption and state defamation, although that was later commuted to 40 years – still likely beyond her lifespan.
Than Naing, 65, a former NLD cabinet member, was sentenced to 90 years in prison on six separate counts of corruption and state defamation.
The leader of an anti-junta strike in the Tanintharyi region, Tun Tun Oo, was sentenced to 46 years. Tun Bone Myint Myat, a 23-year-old student, was given a 44-year term.
And Aye Aye Aung, a member of the NLD in the Magway region, got 40 years.
“Modern societies cannot accept sentences that exceed human lifespan,” said one legal expert in Myanmar who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal. “These sentences will leave a dark stain on Myanmar’s judicial record.”
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