Ousted Rakhine chief minister sentenced to two years in prison for incitement

A junta court in Sittwe sentenced Nyi Pu, the detained former chief minister of Rakhine State, to two years in prison with hard labour for incitement on Friday, according to his lawyer. 

Judge Win Naing of the Sittwe Township court delivered 66-year-old Nyi Pu’s verdict at a hearing held via video conference on Friday regarding charges filed under Section 505b of the Penal Code.

Section 505b outlaws “any statement, rumour or report” likely to induce people to “commit an offence against the state.” Nyi Pu is the second chief minister and central executive committee (CEC) member of the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) to be convicted by the junta of violating the statute since Myanmar’s February 1 military coup. On June 8, Aung Moe Nyo, another NLD CEC member and former chief minister of Magway Region, was also sentenced to two years in prison for incitement.

Nyi Pu was among multiple members of Union and regional cabinets detained shortly after the military seized power from the elected NLD administration. The junta initially placed him under house arrest days after the coup, but transferred him to detention on February 10 after he posted a video on Facebook in which he expressed opposition to the coup.

The NLD has published statements encouraging public resistance to and the rejection of military rule as long as its leaders, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, are in junta custody. 

The military authorities accused central members of the party, including Nyi Pu, of inciting the public to violence through the statements. Myo Myat Hein, a lawyer from Thazin Legal Aid Network representing Nyi Pu, said the judge concluded that he was among those responsible even though he was in custody at the time the statements were published. 

“The conclusion is that whether or not he attended the party’s meetings [regarding the statements] is a separate issue, but as a CEC member, he is responsible for those statements,” said the lawyer.

Kyaw Thein, the junta’s deputy township administrator of Sittwe, filed an incitement charge against Nyi Pu on February 15. 

The plaintiff called on five witnesses to testify against him and Nyi Pu testified on his own behalf on September 28.

Nyi Pu appeared calm as the judge handed out the verdict on Friday, Myo Myat Hein added.

The former chief minister will be transferred to Sittwe prison from a detention centre at the township’s military cantonment, the lawyer said.

He said he will consult with Nyi Pu regarding whether to file an appeal against the verdict. 

Kyi Kyi Oo, Nyi Pu’s daughter, said she had not been able to meet with her father since he was arrested in February and has demanded that she be granted a visit with him. She did not offer comment on Friday’s verdict.

“We all know that [the military] arrests people unjustly and frames and convicts people unfairly,” she told Myanmar Now.

Her sister, Moe San Suu Kyi, an NLD youth leader, was arrested by the junta authorities in Yangon on May 9 and has since been detained in Insein Prison. 

In addition to the incitement conviction, Nyi Pu is also facing three corruption charges filed at the Rakhine State High Court for which hearings are ongoing.

Rakhine State’s municipal minister Min Aung, industry and transportation minister Aung Kyaw Zan, planning and finance minister Kyaw Aye Thein, and forestry and mining minister Kyaw Lwin are also named in the corruption charge laid against Nyi Pu.

He stands accused of abusing his power during his tenure as chief minister and personally profiting while overseeing the implementation of land development projects in Rakhine State’s Gwa Township. 

Each charge carries 15 years’ imprisonment if he is found guilty. 

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