On Tuesday Jun 15th, the trial of Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi entered its second day. Arguments that she incited public disorder and flouted COVID-19 restrictions came from the prosecution. The junta is using these arguments as part of a list of charges to discredit her, and to maintain military rule.
Myanmar’s turbulent military and democratic governments
Myanmar was under military rule for decades, before becoming a democratic country again in 2015.
Aung San Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in September 1988. In 1990, the NLD won the elections by a landslide victory. However, the military refused to concede and placed Madam Suu Kyi under house arrest. Military rule continued in Myanmar.
In the 2015 elections, the NLD again won the elections with a landslide win. Although holding leadership in the NLD< Madam Suu Kyi took up a special role as state counsellor. The country returned to democracy again.
Subsequently, the NLD went on to win the November 2020 general election, again in a landslide victory. It was expected to start a second five-year term in office in February 2021.
Feb 1st military coup
A military coup took place on Feb 1st, just before the swearing in of the NLD government. This resulted in the detention of Madam Suu Kyi, Burmese President Win Myint, and senior members of her government and party. Both NLD supporters and independent observers say the criminal charges brought against many of the top figures are bogus.
The Feb 1st coup has reversed years of democratic reforms in Myanmar. The move has sparked international condemnation and widespread protests.
Since her arrest, Madam Suu Kyi has not been seen in public. Even her legal team does not know her whereabouts. The lawyers had a very short time to consult with Madam Suu Kyi on the charges against her.
A sedition charge brought against Madam Suu Kyi covered Tuesday’s session. This was followed by a second count of violating COVID-19 restrictions.
A sedition charge can be interpreted as an incitement charge as well. A person is guilty sedition if he / she causes fear or alarm that offends the state or public tranquillity. The charge carries up to two years imprisonment.
The sedition charge in Myanmar is often used for political repression. As a result, it has received criticism as a catch-all statute that infringes on freedom of speech.
Police outlined several of the cases against Madam Suu Kyi in the trial that opened on Monday in Naypyidaw. However, the public and media are barred from entering the courtroom.
According to her lawyers, one charge is from illegally importing walkie-talkies that were for her bodyguards’ use. A second charge is for the unlicensed use of those radios. A third charge is for violating the Natural Disaster Management Law, by allegedly breaking pandemic restrictions during last year’s election campaign.
Similarly, ousted Burmese President Win Myint faces court charges for violating the pandemic restrictions.
More charges that have yet to go to trial will also be faced by Aung San Suu Kyi. One such charge is the acceptance of bribes.
Some of the charges carry jail terms up to 15 years. Hence, just a single conviction for Madam Suu Kyi could ban her from running in any future election. Many believe this is what the junta is targeting.
The military justifies the Feb 1st coup by claiming acts of fraud in the November elections. Independent poll watchers however, rejected the assertion.
Calls for release
There were fresh calls both internally and on the international scene, for Madam Suu Kyi’s release and return to civilian rule.
United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, said on Monday that their position is clear on Madam Suu Kyi’s situation. Haq was responding to a question on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ reaction to the trial.
“We want her and all of the senior members of her administration to be freed.”
Haq said “The secretary-general has called for and continues to call for a reversal of the Feb 1 coup and the restoration of the legitimate government of Myanmar, of whom Aung San Suu Kyi is a member.”
16th June 2021 23:00
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