Myanmar’s military on Friday sentenced a close aide to the ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to 20 years in prison, said her lawyer, the first high-ranking member of her party to be jailed by a junta court.
The country has been in crisis since a February 1 coup toppled the National League for Democracy (NLD) government of Suu Kyi, accusing it of fraud in the 2020 elections that it won overwhelmingly.
Since then, Myanmar has been in chaos, with huge protests for democracy and a crackdown on dissent that has killed more than 1,200 people, according to a local watchdog group.
Former NLD president and MP Win Htein was sentenced to 20 years in prison for treason by a special court in the capital, Naypyidaw, lawyer Myint Thwin told AFP.
He added that he would appeal the sentence and that his client was in good health.
Win Htein, 80, is the first senior NLD member to be sentenced by the board after a trial.
The former soldier is a long-time political prisoner who has spent long periods of time in detention for campaigning against the military regime.
Considered Suu Kyi’s right-hand man, he was long sought by national and international media to understand what the former de facto leader of Myanmar thought.
The politician in a wheelchair needs oxygen to help him breathe, according to local media, and suffers from hypertension, diabetes, and heart and thyroid disease.
Before his arrest, three days after the coup, he told local media that the military coup “was not prudent” and that its leaders “have led (the country) in the wrong direction.”
The ruling was “an indication that this regime wants to release the book to these NLD leaders,” including Suu Kyi, said Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group.
“They want to portray them as traitors, corrupt, etc. It is definitely not a good sign for others,” he said, although he added that it was possible that the junta would have a revenge against former soldier Win Htein.
Suu Kyi faces a host of charges that could land her in jail for decades, from illegally importing walkie-talkies to breaking coronavirus rules.
She testified for the first time in board court on Tuesday, four months after being tried by the military, a source with knowledge of the case told AFP.
The media has been banned from attending Suu Kyi’s trial at the special court in Naypyidaw, the army-built capital, and the board recently banned its legal team from speaking to reporters.
Before the ban, her lawyers said the 76-year-old Nobel laureate would not call any defense witnesses in her incitement trial and would represent herself.
The junta has threatened to dissolve the NLD and continues to wage a bloody campaign against opponents of its government.