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A court in Myanmar sentences ousted leader Suu Kyi to 4 years

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A military court in Myanmar has found Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions. Aung San Suu Kyi, of course, is the democratically elected leader of Myanmar who was deposed by the military early this year. The court has now sentenced her to four years in prison. Myanmar state television says the sentence was promptly reduced, although she still faces two years and more court proceedings. Reporter Michael Sullivan is following this story. Michael, welcome.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is this verdict any surprise at all?

SULLIVAN: No, not at all. The military wants her gone. I think it may want her party, the National League for Democracy, gone, too. In the past month and a half, they've already sentenced several prominent NLD members to lengthy prison terms. So the writing was on the wall, and today was her turn. Suu Kyi denies all of the charges against her, and her supporters and many foreign observers say they really are politically motivated, designed to remove her from politics for good after Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in last year's election. Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

PHIL ROBERTSON: She is a political threat to them of the first order. They've recognized that whenever she runs, they can't win an election. And so they've decided to remove her in typical Myanmar military style - use of brute force to start and then using a lapdog court system, which has been beholden to the military for much of the last five decades, to then seal the deal.

SULLIVAN: And don't forget there are more verdicts to come on corruption charges and for violating the Official Secrets Act and others. And if convicted on all of them, Steve, she could be looking at spending the rest of her life in jail.

INSKEEP: How has the military been hanging on to power and ensuring its hold on power since deposing Aung San Suu Kyi in February?

SULLIVAN: Brutality and terror, and we saw both of those play out very graphically yesterday in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon. A flash mob was demonstrating peacefully against the coup-makers, marching down a street, when what appeared to be a government pickup rammed into them at high speed from behind. And then soldiers started arresting people. At least five people were killed. And almost all of this was captured on video and shared widely on social media. And the video's chilling, Steve. In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar said it was horrified by the events, and it called on the military to end the use of violence and respect the will of the people.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar. Of course, the United States normalized relations with Myanmar because it had this period of democratization that seems now to have ended. You also mentioned, Michael, these were peaceful protesters. Aren't there also armed resistance - isn't there also an armed resistance to the coup?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, and it's growing. And it's not just the ethnic minority militias who've been battling the military for decades; it's people everywhere, even on the Bamar-majority heartland. But the military is just digging in, and it's using some of the same scorched-earth tactics it's used against the ethnic minority militias and against the Rohingya in 2017. Richard Horsey is the International Crisis Group's longtime Myanmar analyst.

RICHARD HORSEY: It's determined to quash the resistance, but that resistance is very tenacious. It's widespread in the country. And so you have a brutal, violent military meeting a determined resistance, and that is the kind of deadlock that the country is currently gripped by. And it's one that neither side, I think, will easily prevail.

INSKEEP: Michael Sullivan, I want to circle back to the main news here of a four-year prison term for Aung San Suu Kyi. Is the military really going to stick a 76-year-old Nobel laureate in prison?

SULLIVAN: I think it's more likely she goes back to the same situation she faced before when the military kept her under house arrest for nearly two decades, except this time, Steve, it might be even longer.

INSKEEP: Michael, thanks so much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Michael Sullivan in Tsvangirai, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.