Myanmar’s ousted democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was found guilty Monday of charges including incitement and sentenced to four years in prison, a source with direct knowledge of the case confirmed to NBC News.
The source expressed concern for Suu Kyi’s safety. When asked what’s next for the country’s democracy movement, the source said “hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.”
Ousted President Win Myint was also sentenced to four years, according to the source. There was no indication given of where the two will serve their sentences.
Hours after the conviction, state TV reported that the sentences would be reduced to two years.
The United States, the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union, which have previously called for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar, condemned the verdict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the convictions an affront to democracy and justice in a statement released Monday.
"The regime’s continued disregard for the rule of law and its widespread use of violence against the Burmese people underscore the urgency of restoring Burma’s path to democracy," the statement said, using the former name of Myanmar. "We urge the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all those unjustly detained, including other democratically elected officials."
The E.U.’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called the trial and sentencing “another step towards the dismantling of the rule of law and a further blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar.”
That was echoed by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who said in a statement that it was an "appalling attempt by Myanmar’s military regime to stifle opposition and suppress freedom and democracy."
United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, meanwhile, called the trial a “sham” and said it was “politically-motivated.”
“These cases cannot provide a legal veneer to the illegitimacy of the coup and military rule,” she said.
In a closed hearing, Suu Kyi, 76, was found guilty of inciting public unrest against the military and breaching Covid-19 rules. Authorities imposed a gag order on Khin Maung Zaw, her lawyer, in October, saying his communications could cause instability.
The incitement case involved statements posted on her party’s Facebook page after she and other party leaders had already been detained by the military, while the coronavirus charge involved a campaign appearance ahead of elections in November last year which her party overwhelmingly won.
These aren’t the only charges against Suu Kyi, who was taken into custody after the takeover. Verdicts in two cases related to her alleged ownership of walkie-talkies, allegedly found when soldiers raided her home early Feb. 1, are due later this month. She has also been charged with a list of other offenses, including illegally importing and violating the official secrets act.
The cases against her are widely seen as contrived to discredit her and keep her from running in the next election. The Constitution bars anyone sent to prison after being convicted of a crime from holding high office or becoming a lawmaker.
Australia, New Zealand and South Korea have also opposed the military takeover and called for a return to democracy.
Suu Kyi led a civilian government after her party won in a 2015 election called after the military stepped back from half a century of direct rule. That ended in February when the military detained Suu Kyi and other officials in the National League for Democracy party after a November 2020 election that saw the military lose seats.
Military leaders claimed at the time that the election was fraudulent, but the U.S. has said that it was credible. The country’s military leader said this summer that new elections would be held in the next two years.
In the days that followed the takeover, protesters across the country took to the streets, facing off against security forces who used deadly force against them.
The U.N. has said that more than 1,300 people have been killed in political violence since the military seized control.
On Sunday, the U.N. condemned a reported attack on unarmed civilians in Yangon, with a vehicle belonging to the security forces ramming into protesters and then firing on them with live ammunition.
Suu Kyi, whose reputation was marred in 2017 by the country’s treatment of the minority Rohingya Muslim population, had previously been kept under house arrest for about 15 years by the military. She was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia for championing democracy and rights under Myanmar’s then-ruling junta.
Last month, American journalist Danny Fenster, one of several journalists who were imprisoned after the takeover, was released from prison in Myanmar. He had been convicted of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations and sentenced to 11 years of hard labor.