Octogenarian opposition leader jailed for 20 years for criticizing Myanmar coup

A special court in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw on Friday jailed an 80-year-old senior opposition leader for two decades for criticizing the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the country’s elected civilian government, his family said.

The sentence handed to National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Win Htain is the harshest given so far to detained members of the former government, and will likely keep the veteran political prisoner behind bars for the rest of his life.

Win Htain, who was charged with sedition under Article 124 (A) of Myanmar’s Criminal Code, had already been imprisoned twice before, serving more than 20 years for opposing previous military governments in the country.

Win Htain’s younger brother Kyaw Lin told RFA after the trial that the former NLD official had been charged and sentenced for disseminating a message given to him by former state counselor and de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the eve of the coup, and for statements he later made in a video interview with the media.

“In that interview, he said he knew that he would be arrested for sure for sending out that message, and that he was ready to be taken into detention,” Kyaw Lin said, adding that Win Htain was taken into custody on Feb. 4, three days after the coup was launched.

“He is over 80 years old and is a respected chairman of the NLD, but the military council didn’t spare him and gave him a lengthy prison sentence,” he said, referring to the junta, which formally calls itself the State Administration Council.

“I think that they gave him such a harsh sentence as retribution for sending out Aung San Suu Kyi’s message to the public and to the world,” he added.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s message anticipating the army’s Feb. 1 move against the NLD had urged Myanmar to protest against the coup by the military.

It was released after the army arrested her and dozens of ruling party officials and declared a one-year state of emergency to deal with unproven voting fraud allegations from elections in 2020 that returned the NLD to power.

“We strongly condemn this sentence,” said Aung Myo Min, minister for human rights in the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) set up to oppose the junta now ruling Myanmar.

Win Htain had been denied his legal rights at trial, including the right to a defense, the right to submit evidence to the court, and the right to appeal, he said.

“Myanmar’s courts have collapsed and are now being controlled by the military regime."

“Win Htain is a top leader of the NLD and is now very old, so sentencing him to a 20-year prison term is simply cruel and vindictive, an act of retribution,” added former NLD lawmaker Win Aung. “It is clear that he was convicted unjustly.”

In a statement released after the trial, Phil Robertson—Asia division director for New York-based Human Rights Watch—called Win Htain’s 20-year prison sentence “outrageous and unacceptable.”

“He is an old man already, and they are going to put him away for the rest of his life,” Robertson said, calling the verdict against the NLD leader an example of “joke justice” imposed by a court under full military control.

“[Win Htain] has done nothing for which he should be in prison. He should be immediately and unconditionally released,” Robertson said.

Reported by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Khin Maung Soe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Richard Finney.