The Irish Times view on the sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi

Show trials are likely to embolden Myanmar’s new resistance

‘Today, although her incarceration has been condemned, Aung San Suu Kyi no longer commands international admiration nor is she the central focus of a more broadly based protest movement.’ Photograph: AFP/Getty

‘Today, although her incarceration has been condemned, Aung San Suu Kyi no longer commands international admiration nor is she the central focus of a more broadly based protest movement.’ Photograph: AFP/Getty

 

The sentencing of Myanmar’s deposed leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi (76), to four years in prison on charges of inciting public unrest and breaching Covid-19 protocols, is only the start. She faces imprisonment on nine more charges that could keep her locked up for the rest of her life. The two-year sentence reduction announced by junta-leader General Min Aung Hlaing is laughable.

The in-camera trial on trumped up charges in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, represents a vindictive attempt by the regime to punish her, to give a veneer of legitimacy to its February coup, and to further cow the opposition. But times have changed. Aung San’s imprisonments and home arrests under previous regimes had served as rallying points for the opposition, her stoicism as inspiration for a pacifist movement against the country’s brutal army the “Tatmadaw”.

Protesters march through the streets during an anti-government demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, on Tuesday. A small group of protesters held a rally against the military government, a day after a court sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison. Photograph: AP Photo
Protesters march through the streets during an anti-government demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, on Tuesday. A small group of protesters held a rally against the military government, a day after a court sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison. Photograph: AP Photo

Today, although her incarceration has been condemned, Aung San no longer commands international admiration nor is she the central focus of a more broadly based protest movement. Her imprisonment is largely a sideshow. Her own party, the National League for Democracy, has responded to a crackdown that has seen the Tatmadaw kill more than 1,300 and arrest over 10,600, by going underground to link up with oppressed ethnic minority movements and armed groups to form a shadow rival government, the National Unity Government.

Although there continue to be street protests, many opposition supporters have joined up with armed groups, “local defence units”, to carry out attacks on the hated army. At least 2,000 soldiers and police are reported to have defected to the opposition, contributing to a crisis in morale in a force that is having difficulty recruiting.

The shadow government has also embraced a new democratic politics that most notably calls for equal rights for the Rohingya whose persecution and ethnic cleansing Aung San so controversially refused to criticise in 2017.The tide is turning on the Tatmadaw. Show trials are likely to embolden not cow the new resistance.

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