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03/21/2022 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – Last week, the ousted religious affairs minister Thura Aung Ko from the National League for Democracy (NLD) government was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption after he was taken away and detained as the February 1 military coup unfolded last year.

On March 15, a court inside the notorious Insein prison sentenced the 75-year-old after the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) accused him of accepting bribes from a businessman, awarding Buddhist titles to people in exchange for bribes, and keeping a gold plate that was supposed to be donated to a pagoda.

According to the Irrawaddy,  the junta alleged that U Aung Ko accepted 40 million kyats (US$22,522) from individuals in return for Sāsanānuggaha titles—titles conferred on those who make significant contributions to the promotion of Buddhism. He was also accused of accepting a luxury car and a gold plate weighing 20 ticals (326.6 grams).

As a former Brigadier General who also held a top post in the military’s proxy party, the USDP, Aung Ko joined the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government in 2016. He was appointed deputy minister of religious affairs under the former military regime. He was again appointed as religious affairs minister in the NLD government since he is close to NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

For four counts of corruption charges, he was given three years for each charge, totaling 12 years. He has not been permitted to see his family and has been in poor health and suffering frequent bouts of illness.

During his time as a religious affairs minister, he drew the ire of both ultra-nationalists and the Tatmadaw by abolishing the anti-Muslim and pro-military Buddhist radical group Ma Ba Tha. He was also in support of amending the military’s 2008 constitution and was a key figure in the move to prosecute the hate-preaching monk Wirathu during the NLD’s tenure.

A year after the Feb. coup took place, most of the NLD leaders were arrested and slapped with various fabricated charges. At the moment, NLD party chief Aung Sang Suu Kyi is facing nearly a dozen charges that carry a combined maximum prison sentence of more than 100 years.

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