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Myanmar detains colleague Aung San Suu Kyi

by Anthony L. Gonzalez

A court in military-ruled Myanmar has sentenced a close colleague of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi to 21 years in prison after finding him guilty of corruption, a legal official said.

Zaw Myint Maung is a second vice president and spokesperson for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, which took a landslide victory in the 2020 general election but was prevented from returning for a second five-year term when the military took power in February last year.

Widespread protests met the military takeover, and Myanmar has been embroiled in violence and civil unrest ever since.

The military tried to justify the takeover by saying there was mass vote fraud in the elections, a claim that independent pollsters have disputed.

Myanmar detains colleague Aung San Suu Kyi

The ruling military council has said it could hold new elections by August 2023.

However, the Union Election Commission, with members appointed by the military after it took power, could dissolve the National League for Democracy if it decides it would commit electoral fraud.

Suu Kyi was arrested and is on trial on multiple charges, including corruption, which her supporters say is politically motivated to discredit her and legitimize the military takeover.

She has already been convicted of several minor offenses.

The military government has also arrested many other leaders of its party, which could cripple its attempts to challenge the military in new polls.

Charges against them include treason, corruption, sedition, and violating coronavirus rules.

A statement released last month by the National League for Democracy said 917 party officials and members have been arrested, and 701 are still being held by the military.

Zaw Myint Maung has been a core party member since its inception, winning a seat in a 1990 election declared invalid by the military.

He was jailed at least twice last year for his political activities.

He won elections to the lower house in 2012 and the state parliament in 2015, after which he was appointed prime minister of Mandalay, a central region considered the heart of the country.

Like many colleagues, he was arrested by the military on February 1, 2021.

He was held in Mandalay’s Obo Prison, where his trial occurred in closed rooms.

A legal officer, who was familiar with his cases and spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information, said the court had found him guilty of five corruption charges.

He said Zaw Myint Maung pleaded not guilty to three charges of taking bribes for medical treatment – he suffers from leukemia – and two of abusing his position as prime minister to acquire land for party offices.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

The legal officer said his lawyers will likely appeal the court’s ruling.

Zaw Myint Maung has already been sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition, and voter fraud, and will face another voter fraud charge.

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