Myanmar court files two more charges vs Suu Kyi; protesters march again
Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared at a court hearing via video conferencing on Monday, the first time her lawyers had seen her since she was detained in the February 1 military coup.
Supporters, meanwhile, marched in several towns and cities in defiance of a crackdown after the bloodiest day so far in the aftermath of the coup, with security forces killing at least 18 people in protests on Sunday.
Suu Kyi, aged 75, looked in good health during her appearance before a court in the capital Naypyidaw, one of her lawyers said. Two more charges were added to those filed against her after the coup, he said.
“I saw A May on the video, she looks healthy,” lawyer Min Min Soe told Reuters, using an affectionate term meaning “mother” to refer to Suu Kyi.
“She asked to meet her lawyer.”
The Nobel Peace laureate, who leads the National League for Democracy (NLD), has not been seen in public since her government was ousted and she was detained along with other party leaders.
She was initially charged with illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. Later, a charge of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols was added.
On Monday, two more charges were added, one under a section of a colonial-era penal code prohibiting publication of information that may “cause fear or alarm,” and the other under a telecommunications law stipulating licenses for equipment, the lawyer said.
The next hearing will be on March 15. Critics of the coup say the charges were trumped up.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military seized power after alleging fraud in a November election won by the NLD in a landslide, with daily protests getting increasingly violent as police and troops try to stamp them out.
Police in the main city of Yangon used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters on Monday, witnesses said.
There were no immediate reports of any casualties but the previous day, police opened fire on crowds in various parts of the country killing 18 people, the United Nations human rights office said.
“We have to continue the protest no matter what,” Thar Nge said by telephone after police firing tear gas forced him and others to abandon a barricade in a Yangon street.
“This is my neighborhood. It’s a lovely neighborhood but now we’re hearing gunfire and we don’t feel safe at home.”
The military has not commented on Sunday’s violence and police and military spokesmen did not answer calls.
Demonstrators marched in the northwestern town of Kale holding up pictures of Suu Kyi and chanting “democracy, our cause, our cause”.
Live video on Facebook showed a small crowd in hard hats gathered across a street in the northeastern town of Lashio, chanting slogans as police marched towards them. Protesters also marched in the central town of Bagan.
The coup brought a halt to Myanmar’s tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule and has drawn condemnation from Western countries and growing concern among its neighbors.
Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, will hold a special video meeting on Myanmar on Tuesday, Singapore’s foreign minister said.
“We will listen to the representative of the Myanmar military authorities,” the minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, told parliament.
Balakrishnan said last month there should be no violence against unarmed civilians. He called on Monday for the security forces to desist from the use of lethal force, for Suu Kyi’s release, and for parties in Myanmar to discuss political solutions and a way back to democratic transition.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced what he called “abhorrent violence” by security forces, while Canada’s foreign minister, Marc Garneau, called the military’s use of lethal force “appalling”.
Tom Andrews, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said it was clear the junta’s assault would continue so the international community should ratchet up its response.
He proposed a global arms embargo, more sanctions from more countries on those behind the coup, sanctions on the military’s businesses, and a United Nations Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court.
“Words of condemnation are welcome but insufficient. We must act,” Andrews said in a statement.
The generals have for years shrugged off diplomatic pressure, partly because of the support of China and Russia.
The junta has promised to hold a new election but not set a date.
In a post dated February 28, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper warned “severe action will be inevitably taken” against “anarchic mobs” even though the military had shown restraint.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said at least 270 people were detained on Sunday, from a total of 1,132 it said had been arrested, charged, or sentenced since the coup.