Win Htein to act as witness for deposed civilian leaders

November 7th, 2021  •  Author:   U Win Htein (A patron of NLD)  •  4 minute read
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Win Htein speaks to the media in Naypyitaw on February 3, 2016 (EPA)  

The patron of Myanmar’s ousted ruling party was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sedition late last month

By Myanmar Now

The legal defence team for Myanmar’s detained civilian leaders plans to call Win Htein, a senior figure from the ousted ruling party who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sedition late last month, as a witness, court sources told Myanmar Now.

Lawyers for ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint came up with the plan after deciding not to call other witnesses due to fears that they could be targeted by the country’s coup regime for testifying in favour of the deposed leaders, the sources said.

Suu Kyi faces a total of 11 charges, including incitement, corruption, and violations of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, that could land her in prison for decades if convicted. Win Myint is standing trial for incitement and breaching health restrictions during last year’s election campaign.

Until now, their lawyers have had to base their cases solely on the testimony of the two defendants. However, they have recently submitted a request to call Win Htein, who is a patron of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), to the stand as a witness, the sources said.

Win Htein was given the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on October 29 after being found guilty of sedition under Section 124a of the Penal Code. He was due to be transferred from the Naypyitaw Detention Centre to Mandalay’s Obo Prison after his sentence was handed down, but the transfer has reportedly been delayed in case he has to return to court to testify on behalf of Suu Kyi and Win Myint.

Legally, there is no reason that someone who has already been convicted can’t act as a witness in other lawsuits, according to Thein Oo, the justice minister of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG).

“The law does not stipulate that someone who has been convicted cannot testify as a witness. Defence lawyers have the right to call anyone who can prove the innocence of the accused,” he said.

The junta’s anti-corruption commission has accused Suu Kyi of taking bribes while she was in office. Last month, the former Yangon chief minister under her ousted government, Phyo Min Thein, testified in court that he paid her $600,000 in cash and gave her 11.4kg of gold in exchange for protection and support for his businesses.

Thein Oo told Myanmar Now that as a patron of the NLD, Win Htein had influence over the party’s choice of chief ministers and monitored their performance in office. This knowledge would make him a suitable witness to defend Suu Kyi’s innocence, he said.

“If U Win Htein is allowed to testify [in the corruption case], we can see how much of Phyo Min Thein’s testimony is actually accurate,” the NUG justice minister said.

The court is also expected to hand down verdicts in the incitement cases against Suu Kyi and Win Myint later this month. It was still unclear at the time of reporting if Win Htein would also be testifying in these cases. A spokesperson for the junta could not be reached for comment.

Win Htein was among the few top NLD leaders who was not detained in the early hours of February 1 as the military toppled Myanmar’s elected government. Later the same morning he used his freedom to excoriate the military and urged the public to resist the coup during interviews with journalists.

Min Aung Hlaing acted “without thinking of what is right and wrong,” he told reporters, adding: “I feel pity for him.” He was arrested at his home in Yangon three days later.

According to his lawyer Myint Thwin, Win Htein said he made the comments on the day of the coup because, as a leader of the ruling party, he felt responsible for communicating the unfolding situation to the country.

Original Post: Myanmar Now