Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi Gets 4 More Years in Prison for Walkie-Talkies, COVID Violations

Former Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi received another four-year prison sentence Monday for allegedly illegally importing walkie-talkies and disobeying COVID-19 restrictions.

News of the verdict came from a legal official who spoke to the Associated Press under the condition of anonymity, as authorities are trying to restrict access to information on Suu Kyi's trials.

The former Myanmar leader, ousted in a coup last year, was given another four-year sentence last month for other charges. However, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the military-installed government, reduced it to two years only hours later.

There are about a dozen cases against Suu Kyi. If she is found guilty of all the charges against her, she could spend the rest of her life in prison.

Suu Kyi was hit with the walkie-talkie and radio charges shortly after the coup, which served to justify her imprisonment. They were seized on February 1, 2021, the day of her arrest. Her lawyers said the radios were being used for her security, not personal use, but the court refused to drop the charges.

Suu Kyi was also charged with two counts of violating COVID-19 restrictions while campaigning in 2020. Last month, the court found her guilty of the first count.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was found guilty of more charges, adding another four years to her prison sentence. Here, Suu Kyi looks on before the UN's International Court of Justice on December 11, 2019 in the Peace Palace of The Hague, Netherlands. Photo by Koen Van Weel/AFP via Getty Images

Suu Kyi's supporters and independent analysts said the charges against her are contrived to legitimize the military's seizure of power and prevent her from returning to politics.

The anonymous legal official said she was sentenced to two years in prison under the Export-Import Law for importing the walkie-talkies and one year under the Telecommunications Law for possessing them. The sentences are to be served concurrently. She also received a two-year sentence under the Natural Disaster Management Law for allegedly violating coronavirus rules while campaigning.

Suu Kyi was convicted last month on two other charges—incitement and breaching COVID-19 restrictions.

Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in a 2020 general election, but the military claimed there was widespread electoral fraud, an assertion that independent poll watchers doubt.

Since her first guilty verdict, Suu Kyi has been attending court hearings in prison clothes—a white top and a brown longyi skirt provided by the authorities. She is being held by the military at an unknown location, where state television reported last month she would serve her sentence.

The hearings are closed to the media and spectators and the prosecutors do not comment. Her lawyers, who had been a source of information on the proceedings, were served with gag orders in October.

The military-installed government has not allowed any outside party to meet with Suu Kyi since it seized power, despite international pressure for talks including her that could ease the country's violent political crisis.

It would not allow a special envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, to meet her. The refusal received a rare rebuke from fellow members, who barred Min Aung Hlaing from attending its annual summit meeting.

Even Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who took over as the regional group's chair for this year and advocates engagement with the ruling generals, failed to meet her last week when he became the first head of government to visit Myanmar since the army's takeover.

The military's seizure of power was quickly met by nonviolent nationwide demonstrations, which security forces quashed with deadly force, killing over 1,400 civilians, according to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Peaceful protests have continued, but amid the severe crackdown, an armed resistance has also grown, to the point that U.N. experts have warned the country could be sliding into civil war.

"The Myanmar junta's courtroom circus of secret proceedings on bogus charges is all about steadily piling up more convictions against Aung San Suu Kyi so that she will remain in prison indefinitely. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the junta leaders obviously still view her as a paramount political threat who needs to be permanently neutralized," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

"Once again, Aung San Suu Kyi has become a symbol of what is happening to her country and returned to the role of political hostage of military hell-bent on controlling power by using intimidation and violence," Robertson said in a statement. "Fortunately for her and the future of Myanmar, the Myanmar people's movement has grown well beyond just the leadership of one woman, and one political party."

In addition to her other charges, she is being tried by the same court on five counts of corruption. The maximum penalty for each count is 15 years in prison and a fine. A sixth corruption charge against her and ousted President Win Myint in connection with granting permits to rent and buy a helicopter has not yet gone to trial.

In separate proceedings, she is accused of violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Additional charges were also added by Myanmar's election commission against Suu Kyi and 15 other politicians in November for alleged fraud in the 2020 election. The charges by the military-appointed Union Election Commission could result in Suu Kyi's party being dissolved and unable to participate in a new election the military has promised will take place within two years of its takeover.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.