The couple were detained in Yangon last month after being accused by authorities of violating immigration laws. Myanmar military authorities claimed that the address Bowman registered on her visa did not match her residence. Violations of Myanmar’s immigration law carry a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Bowman’s conviction follows the British government’s announcement last month of a new round of sanctions against companies linked to Myanmar’s junta, which seized power in a bloody coup in February 2021.
Bowman was Britain’s top diplomat in the Southeast Asian nation from 2002 to 2006. After completing her role as ambassador, Bowman remained in the country as the founder of the non-governmental organization Myanmar Center for Responsible Business.
Bowman and her husband Htein Lin, a Myanmar national, were detained by authorities last month.
Htein Lin is a prominent artist and former political prisoner who spent six and a half years behind bars for his role in the student-led uprisings against the old military junta in 1998. He was released in 2004.
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office told CNN the government would “continue to support Ms Bowman and her family until their case is resolved”.
Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns in East and Southeast Asia, condemned the news in a statement, calling the statement “extremely worrying.”
“The latest reports of the sentencing of the former British ambassador and her Burmese artist husband are extremely worrying. Myanmar’s military has a notorious record of arresting and detaining people on politically motivated or fabricated charges,” it said. Yu Hah.
Meanwhile, Friday’s verdict against Suu Kyi is the latest in a series of sentences handed out against the 77-year-old and means she now faces 20 years in prison.
However, this marks the first time that Suu Kyi, a figurehead of the opposition to decades of military rule in the country, has been sentenced to forced labor since last year’s coup.
Friday’s trial involved the November 2020 general election that won its National League for Democracy in a landslide, beating a party founded by the military. Three months after those elections, the military seized power to prevent Suu Kyi’s party from forming a government, on charges of electoral fraud.
Suu Kyi and her party deny those allegations and say they won the election fairly.