Burma’s Ex-Religion Minister Gets 13 Years for Graft, Sedition

By San Yamin Aung 17 October 2014

RANGOON — Former Religious Affairs Minister Hsan Hsint was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on Friday after a Naypyidaw court found him guilty of corruption and sedition.

Tin Tun, Hsan Hsint’s lawyer, said the Dekkhinathiri District Court in Naypyidaw sentenced the former minister to three years in prison under the Penal Code’s Article 409—criminal breach of trust by a public servant—and 10 years and a 100,000 kyats fine under Article 124(a), which covers “attempts to bring hatred or contempt … or disaffection toward [the government].”

“It is not fair,” Tin Tun told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “I will appeal until he gets an acquittal from the sentences.”

He said that he would submit an appeal to a higher court in Mandalay Division after the official letter detailing the verdict is received on Tuesday of next week. The lawyer added that he would take the appeal all the way to the Supreme Court in Naypyidaw if necessary.

Ahead of the sentence, the Daily Eleven newspaper reported on Friday that 51 members of Parliament and 1,004 constituents, including several monks, submitted a letter to the speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, asking for a review of Hsan Hsint’s case and requesting that the minister be arraigned on less severe charges. The speaker of the Lower House forwarded the message to the president and Union chief justice on Wednesday, the report stated.

On June 19, President Thein Sein dismissed Hsan Hsint as head of the Ministry of Religious Affairs for “not performing his duties efficiently.” Subsequent local media reports claimed that he had also been accused of misappropriating millions of kyats from his ministry’s budget for personal family interests.

While he was charged for the alleged misuse of ministry funds under Article 409, the bulk of Friday’s sentence was handed down under Article 124(a), a sedition charge that was added by prosecutors in July.

His firing in June followed a controversial raid on a monastery in Rangoon by the state-backed Buddhist clergy, which had been in an ownership dispute with a group of monks who refused to leave the monastery. The raid led to the arrest of five monks who have since been released on bail. Local media reported that Hsan Hsint and other cabinet members had disagreed over the plan to raid the monastery.

Hsan Hsint’s brother Hsan Myint, who is also a lawyer representing him, told The Irrawaddy 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.

Before becoming the religious affairs minister in January last year, Hsan Hsint was a parliamentarian for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), representing an Irrawaddy Division constituency. He was also the deputy commander of the Rangoon divisional military command.

The former minister has been detained at Ramaethin Prison in Mandalay Division since his arrest. In August, Hsan Hsint’s family said they were concerned about his health, which had deteriorated since his incarceration, but Tin Tun on Friday said the minister was in good health.