YANGON: Myanmar's junta chief reduced the jail sentence of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to two years on Monday (Dec 6), after initially doling out four years for incitement against the military and breaching COVID-19 rules.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, has been detained since the generals staged a coup and ousted her government on Feb 1, ending the Southeast Asian country's brief period of democracy.
She has since been hit with a series of charges, including violating the official secrets act, illegally importing walkie talkies and electoral fraud.
On Monday, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to two years for incitement against the military and another two years for breaching a natural disaster law relating to COVID-19, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP by phone.
Former president Win Myint was also initially jailed for four years on the same charges, which the US has blasted as an "affront" to justice.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing later "pardoned" the sentences of both to "two years imprisonment", according to a statement read out on state TV.
They would serve their sentences under the house arrest they have been kept under in the capital of Naypyidaw, the statement said, without giving further details.
The incitement conviction related to statements Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party published shortly after the coup condemning the generals' takeover.
The COVID-19 charge is linked to last year's election, which the NLD won in a landslide, but the details are not clear with the government imposing a gag order on the court proceedings.
Journalists have been barred from attending the special court hearings in Naypyidaw and Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyers were recently banned from speaking to the media.
In recent weeks, other senior members of the NLD have received long sentences.
A former chief minister was sentenced to 75 years in jail, while a close Aung San Suu Kyi aide was jailed for 20.
Aung San Suu Kyi also faces multiple corruption charges - each of which carries a possible sentence of 15 years in prison.
Monday's verdict was on "the soft charges which the regime could have spared her, but chose not to", independent analyst Soe Myint Aung, told AFP.
"The military seems to have doubled down on its highly oppressive approach toward the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi herself."
Amnesty International immediately condemned the original sentences against Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The harsh sentences handed down to Aung San Suu Kyi on these bogus charges are the latest example of the military's determination to eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms in Myanmar," said Amnesty deputy regional director for Campaigns Ming Yu Hah.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the conviction "following a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court is nothing but politically-motivated".
UK foreign minister Liz Truss slammed the sentence, adding "the arbitrary detention of elected politicians only risks further unrest".
The military, which has dominated life in Myanmar for decades, has defended its coup, claiming fraud allegations in last year's general election.
International Crisis Group's Myanmar senior advisor Richard Horsey told AFP the sentences against Aung San Suu Kyi "were about retribution and a show of power by the military".
"It would be surprising, though, if she were sent to prison. More likely, she'll serve out this and subsequent terms at her house or a regime 'guest house'."
International pressure on the junta to restore democracy swiftly has shown no sign of knocking the generals off course, and bloody clashes with anti-coup protesters continue across the country.
On Sunday soldiers wounded at least three people after ramming a car into peaceful demonstrators in commercial hub Yangon, eyewitnesses said.
State media said one had sustained serious wounds and 11 had been arrested for protesting "without asking for permission".