Myanmar’s former minister of religious affairs on Friday received a 13-year prison sentence on charges of criminal breach of trust and sedition, one of the harshest sentences handed down to a high-ranking government official since the country began its transition from military rule more than three years ago.
Hsan Sint received a three-year sentence for criminal breach of trust under Article 409 of the Penal Code and 10 years plus a 100,000 kyat (U.S. $100) fine for sedition under Article 124A of the Penal Code, his lawyer, Tin Htun, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Tin Htun told RFA that his client was unable to consult with him before the court session began, and that Hsan Sint remained calm and did not express any surprise when the verdict was read.
The lawyer also said the defense team planned to appeal the verdict on Hsan Sint, who was sacked in June after he reportedly objected to a controversial government raid on a monastery in Yangon city that led to protests by monks.
“We are not satisfied with the verdict and will appeal it,” Tin Htun said. “Honestly, we are not satisfied with the way the case was handled. First, we will appeal to the Mandalay regional court, and if that fails, we’ll continue on to the Supreme Court and the Special Appeals Court.”
Tin Htun said he believed Hsan Sint had been returned to Yamethin prison in the Mandalay region, where he has been held, although he could be sent to a higher security jail since his sentence was more than 10 years.
Hsan Sint had disagreed with other cabinet members over a raid on the Mahasantisukha monastery in Yangon’s Tamwe township.
Officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and 300 riot police took control of the monastery following an ownership dispute while its popular abbot, Pyinya Wuntha, was visiting Japan.
Hsan Sint had been accused of misusing U.S. $10,000 to build a pagoda in his family’s name in the capital Naypyidaw in October last year, of which he had only repaid part.
His brother Hsan Myint, who is also a lawyer representing him, told The Irrawaddy online journal that prosecutors brought the sedition charge due to media coverage that followed the monastery raid.
Hsan Hsint was accused of sowing discord between the government and monks in the aftermath of the raid by feeding reporters information about the incident, the journal said.
Ahead of the verdict, more than 50 lawmakers and several monks sent a letter to parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann to seek a review of Hsan Sint’s case and the possibility of his arraignment on less severe charges, local reports said. The petition was forwarded to President Thein Sein on Thursday.
Hsan Sint ran in the 2010 elections as a representative for the Yay Kyi constituency in the country’s southern Ayeyarwady region and served as the speaker of the regional parliament before his appointment as minister of religious affairs.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.