ATHE COURTYARD ready to deliver his verdict in Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial on December 6, the usual suspense that precedes a judgment was absent. The court’s decision was preordained almost from the time the soldiers took Ms. Suu Kyi from her quarters in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw to an undisclosed location before dawn on February 1. The military regime that seized power that day from Ms. Suu Kyi, then the de facto ruler of the country, began filing a complaint against her almost immediately. The trial, which was closed to the public and the media, went on for months. Today, the court ruled on two counts: inciting public unrest and violating covid-19 restrictions. The verdicts – guilty and guilty – carry prison terms of four years in total.
In practice, the generals seem to intend to keep Ms. Suu Kyi behind bars for as long as they are in power. She has been charged with a total of 11 felonies, ranging from possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies to accepting bribes and breaking the Official Secrets Act. For good measure, the regime filed a further complaint with the police on November 30, alleging that she and Win Myint, the ousted president, had benefited from the government purchase and lease of a helicopter. If she is found guilty on all counts, as also seems likely, she faces a total sentence of up to 120 years in prison.
“It’s really about discrediting her – it’s about saying, ‘She’s a con artist and look at all these laws she broke,’ says David Mathieson, a senior analyst. The junta wants to tarnish it as well as the election that its party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won by a landslide in November 2020. The generals maintain, without proof, that the NLD cheated on a large scale, and therefore had to intervene for the sake of democracy, which they absurdly claim to cherish. The junta has formed an “interim” government that will rule the country until it can hold another rigged election in 2023.
Ms. Suu Kyi’s prison sentence guarantees that she will not be able to participate in any organized vote if the junta ever manages to organize one. “Army generals are preparing for 104 years in prison for her. They want her to die in prison ”, Dr Sasa, spokesperson for the government of national unity (NUG), a shadow government made up of former party members, told the BBC.
Ms. Suu Kyi’s conviction can be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders by the country’s many ethnic minorities, who have always been suspicious of the central government and bitter toward Ms. Suu Kyi during her five years in power. But the imprisoned leader is loved by the Bamars, the ethnic group which constitutes the majority of the population. The generals’ coup sparked the country’s largest protest movement in a generation. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and went on strike. The army’s crackdown on protests has sparked a low-level insurgency that is developing into a civil war.
The verdict is therefore likely to catalyze even firmer resistance against the junta in Bamar’s heart. The militias in urban areas – where the Bamars are in the majority – will see it as a new outrage on the part of the junta. The generals may soon discover that, far from scaring the resistance, they have only fueled the fire. “We have no future with the military junta,” says Dr Sasa. “If we don’t topple them, we will all die. It is very simple.” ■