Myanmar’s military junta has imposed prison terms of up to 225 years on nearly 20 of its political opponents since taking power in a coup early last year.
The prisoners are either anti-coup activists, rebel fighters or members of the deposed National League for Democracy – once led by former state adviser Aung San Suu Kyi – who won landslide victories in the 2015 and 2020 elections before the military took control in February 2021.
They have been convicted of terrorism and incitement – charges that military authorities believe deserve severe penalties. 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 retaliation for pronouncing military rule.
“The unjust punishments are part of a lackluster effort to instill fear in people’s minds and hinder the revolution,” he said. Kyaw Zaw, a spokesman for Duwa Lashi La, president of the shadow government of the National Unity. “It shows that the rule of law in Myanmar is completely out of control.”
Basic principles of justice mean that any judge who rules in court is expected to consider a fair balance between crime and punishment, and to impose sentences that not only protect society but are also designed to and to refrain from inflicting cruel punishments.
“Punishing someone for more than what he or she earns is … a violation of human rights,” said Ko Tun, a member of the Myanmar-based NGO Human Rights Initiative. “Giving extremely long prison sentences after arbitrary arrests is like killing or mentally executing a prisoner.”
A list of long sentences
Suu Kyic77, has been charged on 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 under the government of the State Military Peace and Development Council in 1989 and spent nearly 15 of the next 21 years under house arrest until her release in 2010.
Last month, the last five remaining corruption cases, related to buying and leasing a helicopter, were brought against her in a prison court in the capital Naypyidaw. They are following her sentence, a week earlier, to three years each on two corruption charges in which she accepted money from a businessman – sentences she must serve at the same time.
Last month, two members of the paramilitary group of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force received sentences under the country’s anti-terrorism law that far exceeded their expected life spans.
Kyaw Thet, 30, got 225 years, and Hnin Maung, 36, got 95 years. They were also sentenced to death, meaning they are likely to be executed in the coming months.
The same day, another court convicted Win Myint Hlainga 52-year-old former NLD legislator, to 148 years in prison after being convicted of eight terrorism charges. He had previously been convicted of five charges of sedition and terrorism, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, bringing his total sentence to 173 years. Sources told RFA that some of the incidents for which he was most recently convicted took place while he was already in prison.
Former NLD Chief Minister of Kayin State Nang Khin Htwe MyintThe 67-year-old was given an 80-year term late last year for election fraud, corruption and state defamation, although that was later commuted to 40 years – probably still outside her life.
then Naing65, 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 Oowas sentenced to 46 years. Tun Bone Myint Myatoa 23-year-old student, was given a 44-year term.
And Aye Aye Aunga member of the NLD in the Magway region, got 40 years.
“Modern societies cannot accept punishments that exceed human lifespans,” said a Myanmar legal expert who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, citing fears of reprisal. “These verdicts will leave a dark mark on Myanmar’s judicial record.”
Translated by Myo Min Aung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Malcolm Foster.