Myanmar regime hands LGBT activist another 22 years behind bars

A Mandalay-based LGBT activist who was arrested in October of last year was sentenced to an additional 22 years in prison on Monday, according to a source close to her family.

A special court inside Mandalay’s Obo Prison handed down the sentence after finding Sue Sha Shinn Thant, 27, guilty of two charges under Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law for allegedly financing terrorist activities, the source said.

“They combined the charges before handing down the sentence. We don’t know the details yet, but she was already given a three-year sentence [for incitement] earlier this year, so her total prison sentence is now 25 years,” said the source, who did not want to be named.

Sue Sha Shinn Thant was arrested more than a year ago near the Myintge toll gate, at the southern entrance to Mandalay, after junta soldiers crashed their vehicle into her motorcycle. She and a fellow activist, Than Toe Aung, who was riding the motorbike with her, were both taken into custody at the same time.

Sue Sha Shin Thant was sentenced to an additional 22 years in prison by a special court on December 12 (Facebook)

According to the source, the pair were chased after arguing with soldiers who checked their phones. Than Toe Aung suffered unspecified injuries to the lower part of his body, but Sue Sha Shinn Thant was not badly injured, the source said.

Than Toe Aung was sentenced to a total of 15 years on incitement and terrorism charges, but Sue Sha Shinn Thant received a heavier sentence for her alleged role in financing anti-regime activities, according to the source.

“She was actually innocent of all these charges. She had to help with money transactions for charity purposes, since she worked for an NGO. I think she was accused and prosecuted for that,” the source said.

Another source close to the victim said she was sexually assaulted and tortured during interrogation.

“They touched her breasts and burned her with cigarette butts. She’s a trans woman and well-endowed. She asked for a bra to wear in prison, but the guards would not accept care packages with bras,” the source said.

Aung Myo Min, the human rights minister for the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), called Sue Sha Shinn Thant “a symbol of embodiment for the LGBT community” and denounced her arrest and sentencing.

“The soldiers did not comply with lawful arrest procedures and arrested her by crashing into her motorbike. She was also sexually assaulted during interrogation. It is a great loss for her to be given a 22-year prison sentence after all these abuses,” he told Myanmar Now on Tuesday.

He added that imprisoned LGBT people are often targeted by both junta authorities and convicts due to “a deep-seated hatred” towards the community.

“But we will bring justice to Sue Sha Shinn Thant and others who were unjustly arrested, tortured, and imprisoned,” he said.

Sue Sha Shinn Thant is well-known for her charity work in Mandalay and as an advocate of human rights, including LGBT and children rights. She has worked for a number of NGOs and was the chair of the Mandalay regional youth association under the ousted National League for Democracy government. 

She was studying in Thailand when the military seized power in a coup in February 2021. She was arrested soon after her return to Myanmar late last year.

“Words can’t even describe how I feel about this sentence. But the silver lining is that she is still alive. I just hope that she will be freed as soon as possible,” said a friend from the LGBT community.

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