A Myanmar junta court on Wednesday sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to five years in jail for corruption, part of a barrage of criminal cases that could see the deposed civilian leader jailed for decades.
Since a military coup ousted her government in February last year, plunging Myanmar into upheaval, Suu Kyi has been in military custody.
In the latest case, the Nobel laureate was accused of accepting a bribe of US$600,000 cash and gold bars.
After two days of delays, the special court in the military-built capital Naypyidaw handed down its verdict and sentence at 9:30 am (0300 GMT) on Wednesday.
“Regarding taking gold and dollars from U Phyo Min Thein, the court sentenced her five years’ imprisonment,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told AFP.
“She will be under house arrest. I do not know whether she asked for appeal. They are working according to the legal way. As far as I know, she’s in good health.”
She still faces a raft of other criminal charges, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud, and could be jailed for more than 100 years if convicted on all counts.
The 76-year-old had already been sentenced to six years in jail for incitement against the military, breaching COVID-19 rules and breaking a telecommunications law — although she will remain under house arrest while she fights other charges.
Journalists have been barred from attending the court hearings and Suu Kyi’s lawyers have been banned from speaking to the media.
Last month Suu Kyi was forced to miss three days of hearings after being quarantined because of a COVID-19 case among her staff.
Under a previous junta regime, Suu Kyi spent long spells under house arrest in her family mansion in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
Today, she is confined to an undisclosed location in the capital, with her link to the outside world limited to brief pre-trial meetings with her lawyers.
Turmoil, investor flight
The coup sparked widespread protests and unrest which the military sought to crush by force.
According to a local monitoring group, the crackdown has left more than 1,700 civilians dead and seen some 13,000 arrested.
Suu Kyi has been the face of Myanmar’s democratic hopes for more than 30 years, but her earlier six-year sentence already meant she is likely to miss elections the junta has said it plans to hold by next year.
Independent Myanmar analyst David Mathieson said the junta was using the criminal cases to make Suu Kyi “politically irrelevant”.
“This is just another squalid step in solidifying the coup,” he told AFP.
“This is politically motivated pure and simple.”
Many of her political allies have also been arrested since the coup, with one chief minister sentenced to 75 years in jail, while many others have been forced into hiding.
A tranche of ousted lawmakers from her National League for Democracy (NLD) formed a parallel “National Unity Government” (NUG) in a bid to undermine the junta’s legitimacy.
However, the NUG holds no territory and has not been recognized by any foreign government.
Numerous “People’s Defence Force” (PDF) civilian militias have sprung up around the country to take the fight to the junta.
Analysts say Myanmar’s heavily armed, well-trained army has been surprised by the effectiveness of the PDFs and in some areas struggled to contain them.
Last week junta supremo Min Aung Hlaing called for peace talks with Myanmar’s long-established ethnic rebel groups — which control large areas of territory and have been battling the military for decades.
The turmoil that has engulfed Myanmar in the wake of the coup has spooked foreign investors who flocked to the country after the dawn of democracy around 2011.
Energy giants TotalEnergies and Chevron, British American Tobacco and Japanese brewer Kirin have all announced plans to pull out.