NLD party stalwart Win Htein sentenced to 20 years in prison for sedition 

A tribunal in Naypyitaw on Friday handed a 20-year prison sentence to National League for Democracy (NLD) party stalwart Win Htein, who was arrested in early February after condemning coup leader Min Aung Hlaing’s power grab during media interviews. 

The 79-year-old former military captain, who is in poor health, appeared for the verdict at a court inside the Naypyitaw Detention Center, where he has been on trial for sedition under Section 124a of the Penal Code.  

The two-judge tribunal, presided over by judge Ye Lwin, handed down the maximum sentence allowed under the law at around 3pm. 

Defence lawyer Myint Thwin said Win Htein was ready for a harsh sentence. “He is firm in beliefs and resilient so he was not fazed at all. Since the time he was detained and charged, he has told the court to hand down the sentence as it sees fit, no matter how many years it may be.” 

Chit Suu, Win Htein’s youngest daughter, told Myanmar Now the sentence was not surprising but was an “injustice.”

“This is as we expected. It’s not a surprise but it’s a sad and outrageous thing to hear about the ridiculous sentencing. The perpetrators of this injustice will be held accountable,” said Chit Suu, who lives in Australia and spent most of her childhood separated from her father.

Win Htein was among the few top NLD leaders who was not detained in the early hours of February 1 as the military toppled his party’s elected government. Later the same morning he used his freedom to excoriate the military during interviews with journalists. 

Min Aung Hlaing acted “without thinking of what is right and wrong,” he told reporters, “I feel pity for him.” He was arrested at his home in Yangon three days later. 

Myint Thwin said that Win Htein made the comments on the day of the coup because, as a leader of the ruling party that was being toppled, he felt responsible for communicating the unfolding situation to the country. 

Win Htein was forced to retire from the military in 1976 after being accused of involvement in a plot to assassinate then dictator Ne Win. 

He went on to work as a businessman until 1988, when he became close with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi after an introduction from Tin Oo, the former military commander-in-chief who was also forced to retire in the late 1970s and later helped found the NLD. 

As Suu Kyi emerged as the most prominent leader of the democratic uprising in 1988, Win Htein took responsibility for her security at protests. He was arrested for his political activity in 1989 and spent the majority of the next two decades in prison before being freed in 2010. 

In July Nyan Win, another senior NLD leader who was detained following the coup, died in junta custody after contracting Covid-19 at Insein Prison.

The junta has also detained most of the country’s NLD-appointed state and regional chief ministers, charging them with incitement and corruption. 

Several NLD office buildings, including its Yangon headquarters and its regional branch in Mandalay, have been targeted in bomb or arson attacks in recent months. Senior NLD figures believe that the junta is trying to destroy the party.

After appointing himself the prime minister of the “caretaker government” in early August, Min Aung Hlaing has stepped up efforts to change Myanmar’s electoral system to one of Proportional Representation. The new system would make it harder for any party to secure a crushing landslide victory like that enjoyed by the NLD in last year’s election. 

Win Htein will now be transferred to a different prison to serve his sentence, but it is unclear which one.

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