(Reuters) – The imprisonment of former Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi showed that no one was above the law, a senior junta official said on Tuesday, and the country’s ruling general had commuted her sentence on “grounds of humanity”.
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, 76, was sentenced to four years in prison for incitement and breaching coronavirus regulations, but that was reduced to a two-year term of detention in her current, undisclosed location.
The verdicts were the first in nearly a dozen cases against her that carry combined maximum sentences of more than 100 years in prison. Suu Kyi denies all charges.
“There is no one above the law,” Information Minister Maung Maung Ohn said on Tuesday, adding that Myanmar’s judicial system “has no partiality”.
He was speaking at a rare media briefing on Myanmar’s economy during which he and the junta’s investment minister said the situation was stabilising.
They said preparations were under way for elections to be held before August 2023, but would not confirm whether Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party would be allowed to compete.
The party is under investigation by the election commission, which Maung Maung Ohn said was due to report back early next year.
Myanmar’s state media last month announced Suu Kyi would be prosecuted for fraud over the 2020 elections, which were won convincingly by the NLD.
Myanmar has been in crisis since the military seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, arresting Suu Kyi and most of her government.
Security forces seeking to crush opposition have since killed more than 1,300 people, according to monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, and armed rebellions have sprung up across the country.
The verdict against Suu Kyi was condemned around the world on Monday.
But reaction varied among Myanmar’s neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is leading international diplomatic efforts, demonstrating challenges ahead in pressuring the generals to free detainees and end hostilities.
Singapore’s foreign ministry urged the junta to honour peace commitments with ASEAN and free “all political detainees including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi”.
A spokesperson for Thailand’s prime minister, however, called her sentencing “an internal matter of Myanmar”.
The junta’s foreign minister met on Tuesday with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen – ASEAN’s chairman next year – but there was no mention of Suu Kyi’s verdict in official statements.
The junta has defended its crackdown on pro-democracy forces as necessary to fight “terrorists” determined to harm the country and has dismissed international criticism as biased and misguided.
On Sunday, security forces in a truck rammed into a protest, killing at least five people, media reported.
Maung Maung Ohn said the protest was the result of pressure from anti-coup groups “so that young people get emotional” but that crowd management by authorities “is sometimes handled unintentionally”.
“Such kind of protests should be prevented according to the law,” he said.
(Reporting by Poppy McPherson in Bangkok; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)