(Reuters) -A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi to five years in jail on Wednesday after finding her guilty in the first of 11 corruption cases she faces, a source with knowledge of the proceedings said.
The Nobel laureate and figurehead of Myanmar’s opposition to military rule is charged with at least 18 offences carrying combined maximum jail terms of nearly 190 years, all but killing off any chance of a political comeback.
The judge in the capital, Naypyitaw, handed down the verdict within moments of the court convening and gave no explanation, said the source, who declined to be identified because the trial is being held behind closed doors, with information restricted.
Suu Kyi, who has attended all of her hearings, was displeased with the outcome and would appeal, the source said.
The European Union confirmed the sentencing in a statement. The EU said the trial was politically motivated, a setback for democracy and “represents another step towards the dismantling of the rule of law and a further blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar.”
The 76-year-old led Myanmar for five years during a short period of tentative democracy before being forced from power in a coup in February 2021 by the military, which has ruled the former British colony for five of the past six decades.
It was not immediately clear if she would be transferred to a prison to serve the sentence.
Since her arrest she has been held in an undisclosed location, where junta chief Min Aung Hlaing previously said she could stay after convictions in December and January for comparatively minor offences that led to a six-year term.
The military government’s spokesperson Zaw Min Tun could not be reached for comment, and made no mention of the Suu Kyi ruling on Wednesday during a televised news conference that ran more than 3-1/2 hours.
The latest case centred on accusations that Suu Kyi accepted 11.4 kg (402 oz) of gold and cash payments totalling $600,000 from her protege-turned-accuser, former chief minister of the city of Yangon, Phyo Min Thein.
Suu Kyi had called the accusations “absurd” and denies all charges against her, which include violations of electoral and state secrets laws, incitement and corruption.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Suu Kyi’s days as a free woman were effectively ended.
“Myanmar’s junta and the country’s kangaroo courts are walking in lockstep to put Aung San Suu Kyi away for what could ultimately be the equivalent of a life sentence, given her advanced age,” he said.
“Destroying popular democracy in Myanmar also means getting rid of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the junta is leaving nothing to chance.”
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, with the military using lethal force to suppress nationwide protests and public anger. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and many killed, tortured and beaten, in what the United Nations has called crimes against humanity.
The international community has put sanctions on the military and dismissed Suu Kyi’s trials as farcical. The Myanmar embassies of Britain and the United States did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The military has said Suu Kyi committed crimes and is being given due process by an independent judiciary and rejects foreign criticism as interference.
The junta has refused to allow her visits, including by a special Southeast Asian envoy trying to end the crisis.
On Twitter, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said he was deeply concerned about the sentence, urging that “the basic principles of human rights and justice should be ensured”.
Nay Phone Latt, a former official in Suu Kyi’s ousted ruling party, said court decisions were temporary, because military rule would not last long.
“We do not recognise the terrorist junta’s rulings, legislation, or the judiciary,” said Nay Phone Latt, who belongs to the shadow National Unity Government, which has declared a people’s revolt against military rule.
“I don’t care how long they want to sentence, whether it’s one year, two years, or whatever they want. This won’t last.”
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)