Britain’s former ambassador to Myanmar and her husband, a prominent artist, have been sentenced to one year in prison by the country’s military-controlled courts, reports say.
Vicky Bowman, who was the ambassador in Myanmar from 2002 to 2006, and her husband, Htein Lin, a veteran democracy activist, were arrested last week in Yangon and accused of violating immigration laws.
They have each been sentenced to one year in prison, according to the BBC and Associated Press.
Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, described news of their conviction as extremely concerning. “Myanmar’s military has a notorious track record of arresting and jailing people on politically motivated or trumped-up charges,” she said.
Separately on Friday, courts sentenced the ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, 77, to three years’ imprisonment for electoral fraud, meaning she faces a total 20-year sentence. Further cases against her, which could lead to decades more prison time, are ongoing.
The ousted president, Win Myint, and the former minister of the president’s office, Min Thu, also received sentences of three years for electoral fraud, according to AP.
The military has sought to justify its 2021 coup by alleging widespread fraud in the 2020 election – which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won by a landslide.
The Asian Network for Free Elections, an independent group that observed the 2020 vote, found it was “by and large, representative of the will of the people”, however. In a statement, it condemned the latest convictions and called on the military to respect the results of the election.
Dr Sasa, spokesperson for the National Unity Government (NUG), which was formed by elected lawmakers as well as activists in opposition to the coup, said the cases against Aung San Suu Kyi were ridiculous, and that the military was simply trying to silence her. She has been denied free and proper access to her lawyer, he said.
“This is just the military doing everything they can to prolong their reign of terror agains the people of Myanmar. This has nothing to do with rule of law, nothing to do with justice, it’s all about them remaining in power,” said Sasa.
The sentences announced on Friday, including those relating to Bowman and Htein Lin, showed the true colours of the Myanmar military, he added. “Regardless of whether you are a foreigner, or a diplomat, whoever you are, if you are in Myanmar, you are not safe. They do not see you as a human being. They see you as someone who can be taken away from the house at night,” he said.
Bowman, who is fluent in Burmese and began her diplomatic career working as the second secretary at the British embassy in 1990, now leads the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business. Htein Lin is one of Myanmar’s most famous artists. He was imprisoned for more than six years under military rule in 1998 and is known for continuing his art while in detention, improvising with materials to create more than 1,000 works.
The junta said previously that the pair violated immigration regulations because they had not registered their new address with the authorities.
The arrests came last week as the UK announced new sanctions targeting military-linked companies and said it would “intervene” in a genocide case filed by the Gambia against Myanmar at the international court of justice in 2019.
More than 15,320 people have been arrested since the military took power in a coup on 1 February 2021, and 12,219 remain in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks arrests and killings.
Other foreign nationals being held are Prof Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, and Toru Kubota, a Japanese film-maker.