A prison court in Myanmar’s Magway region has sentenced at least 20 National League for Democracy (NLD) members to lengthy jail terms on charges of violating the country’s Counterterrorism Law, officials from the ousted political party said Monday.
The 20 NLD members from Magway’s Pwintbyu and Sidoktaya townships – which included senior officials from the party’s executive committee – were each sentenced to jail terms of 20 years or more in a closed trial at the Daungnay Prison Court on Sept. 30, the officials told RFA Burmese, speaking on condition of anonymity citing security concerns.
Sources within Myanmar’s judicial system and NLD members called the hefty punishments “politically motivated” and typical of how the military regime has threatened and harassed the party whose democratically elected government it sidelined in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup.
Pwintbyu Township NLD Executive Committee member Win Zaw Oo, and party members Zaw Myo Htet, Zaw Win, Win Kyaing, Ni Thway, Kyi Linn, Chit Nyi Nyi, Hlaing Win, Kyaw Win Sein, San Htay and Than Htay were each sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Similarly, Pwintbyu party members Kaw Zin Min, Tin Maung Htun, Nyi Nyi Aung, Than Soe, Nyo Win Aung, Sann Lin Aung, Zaw Myo Aung and Bhone Kyaw, were each sentenced to 20 years in prison.
An NLD party official from Pwintbyu who declined to be named told RFA that authorities also sentenced Aye Aye Aung, chairwoman of the Women’s Affairs Committee for the NLD in Sidoktaya township, was also sentenced to 20 years in prison for violating the Counterterrorism Law. The chairwoman had been arrested on Dec. 18, 2021 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for terrorism, and last week’s conviction brings her total term to 40 years.
A member of the NLD in Pwintbyu told RFA that those sentenced had been arrested “for various reasons,” without providing further details.
He also accused authorities of using questionable methods to arrest the two NLD executive committee members.
“[Win Zaw Oo] had been in hiding [with his brother-in-law] in the Sidoktaya area to avoid arrest … He was arrested [on Sept. 21, 2021] after authorities took his family members hostage and used them for leverage,” the party member said, adding that Win Zaw Oo was known for his charity work in the region.
“[Aye Aye Aung] was arrested in Salin township. [Junta] authorities tricked her into thinking she would meet someone she knew and then arrested her.”
Another NLD official in Pwintbyu called Aye Aye Aung’s sentencing “heart wrenching.”
“She was given another 20 years sentence on Sept. 30, as they charged her for a second time under the same articles,” the official said.
Sentences for ‘political reasons’
Speaking to RFA on Monday, a veteran attorney in Myanmar noted that all of the sentences delivered on Sept. 30 were “the maximum penalty under the law.”
“The [junta] always lectures the people about the rule of law, but they do not respect the law themselves,” he said.
“They always give the maximum penalty to NLD leaders … so we can conclude they [are doing it] for political reasons.”
Bo Bo Oo, a former NLD lawmaker for Yangon’s Dala township, said he had seen similarly lengthy punishments handed to members of the party in his region.
But he called the tactics of the junta authorities in Pwintbyu and Sidoktaya townships “particularly unlawful and underhanded.”
“In these cases, authorities arrested or harassed family members and friends when they couldn’t arrest the person they wanted,” he said. “They are increasingly using this tactic throughout the country.”
NLD members say that in addition to arrests, authorities have been confiscating and sealing off properties belonging to the party and its supporters.
According to party records, the military regime has arrested 972 members and killed 55 between last year’s coup and Sept. 23, 2022.
Speaking to the media during a Sept. 20 press conference in the capital Naypyidaw, junta Deputy Information Minister Major General Zaw Min Htun warned the public that anyone who donates as little as one kyat to anti-junta groups could be persecuted under the Counterterrorism Law.
Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) says that authorities in Myanmar have killed at least 2,332 civilians and arrested 15,744 others since last year’s coup – mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests. At least 12,569 of those arrested remain in detention, the group says.
Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.