NLD leaders, student activists receive prison sentences in year-end blitz

Myanmar’s military junta has ended the year by sentencing many of its opponents to lengthy prison terms, signalling its determination to hold onto power as its rule approaches the one-year mark.

On Thursday, regime-controlled courts handed down heavy sentences to politicians and activists accused by the junta of corruption, incitement, and other charges.

Hardest hit was Magway Region’s ousted chief minister, Aung Moe Nyo, who was given 18 years behind bars after being found guilty on multiple charges of violating Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Law for allegedly accepting bribes and misusing state funds.

“The chief minister was facing a total of six corruption charges. [The judges] handed down an 18-year prison sentence—three years for each charge,” his lawyer Myint Aung told Myanmar Now on Thursday.

Aung Moe Nyo, who is also a central executive committee member of the ousted ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was accused of incurring unnecessary costs in the construction of two colleges and a high school and of accepting 50m kyat (US$28,150) in bribes from Denko, a company that operates petrol stations in Myanmar.

The 64-year-old, who like many other senior members of the NLD was taken into custody during the February 1 military coup, was already serving two years for incitement.

The speaker of Magway’s regional parliament, U Tar, and three regional ministers were also sentenced on Thursday, according to Myint Aung, who represented all five defendants.

Three other members of the NLD’s central executive committee were also sentenced to prison on Thursday, as was the speaker of Mandalay’s regional parliament.

Dr Myo Nyunt, Han Tha Myint, and Thein Oo were each given two years for allegedly inciting unrest against the junta, according to sources at the special court inside Yangon’s Insein prison where the sentences were handed down.

The charges were based on two statements released by the NLD days after the coup, urging resistance to the military takeover.

The court source noted that all three were already in regime custody when the statements were released, making it unlikely that they had anything to do with the NLD’s calls to oppose the coup.

“I don’t understand how they could have released those statements when they were in detention,” the source said.

Aung Kyaw Oo, the speaker of Mandalay’s regional parliament, was given a total of five years in prison, a lawyer familiar with his situation told Myanmar Now.

The 50-year-old, who is being held at Mandalay’s Obo Prison, had been charged with incitement and violating Covid-19 restrictions. He received the maximum penalty for both charges, the source said.

In August, regime forces were accused of raiding his home—which also serves as the local NLD office for his ward in Mandalay’s Maha Aungmyay Township—and terrorising his family. 

Meanwhile, the special court inside Insein Prison also handed down sentences against two prominent student leaders on Thursday.

Aye Aung, a 45-year-old former member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), received three years in prison for his role in anti-coup protests in Yangon’s Tamwe Township in March.

“The court decided that it was apparent that he led the protests,” his lawyer said.

Aye Aung, who took part in a student-led uprising against military rule in 1996, was previously sentenced to 59 years in prison by Myanmar’s former military junta. He spent 14 years behind bars until his release in 2012.

Fellow former ABFSU executive Min Thway Thit, meanwhile, was given a year in prison for driving an unregistered vehicle without a license.

The sentence handed down to the 38-year-old former political prisoner was the minimum for the charge, which is punishable by up to three years in prison, because the offense was related to his volunteer work with Covid-19 patients.

“There wasn’t enough evidence that Min Thway Thit owned or drove the car, but it was apparent that he was using it to transport patients during the pandemic,” his lawyer said.

A day earlier, another ABFSU activist got two years and one month in prison on charges stemming from his political activities in September of last year.

Wai Yan Phyo Moe was charged with violating Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for handing out and posting leaflets in Yangon’s Mahabandoola Park calling for the restoration of internet services in Rakhine State.

The sentence was handed down by a court in Kyauktada Township. The 23-year-old ABFSU president faces similar charges in two other townships in Yangon, as well as charges of incitement under Sections 505a and 505b of the Penal Code.

According to local media reports, at least 62 junta opponents, including politicians, activists, artists and other public figures, were sentenced on Thursday.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group based in exile, the regime is currently holding 8,331 people on charges related to their anti-coup activities, of whom only 487 have so far been convicted. 

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