Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been transferred to prison after being placed under house arrest, the military junta confirmed on Thursday.
Suu Kyi is reportedly currently being held in a prison in the capital Naypyitaw, separate from other detainees.
The elected leader was arrested on February 1 last year when the military seized power from her National League for Democracy government.
She was first detained at her residence in Naypyitaw, but was later moved to an undisclosed location, generally believed to be a military base.
A spokesman for the ruling military council told reporters that Suu Kyi was transferred to Naypyitaw main prison on Wednesday in accordance with the law and was being held in “well-guarded” conditions.
The 77-year-old is on trial for several counts, including bribery, and has previously sentenced to 11 years in prison on various counts.
Her supporters say the charges are politically motivated to discredit her and legitimize the military’s takeover.
Suu Kyi’s next trials are now expected to take place in Naypyitaw prison. She faces 11 counts of corruption, each carrying a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, and an election fraud charge, which carries a maximum sentence of three years.
What’s going on in Burma?
The military takeover in Myanmar sparked peaceful nationwide protests which security forces put down with lethal force.
According to Association for the aid of political prisonersmore than 2,000 civilians have been killed and around 11,000 others detained by the army since February 2021.
The military claimed it took power because the November 2020 elections – won by Suu Kyi’s party – were marred by widespread fraud. The allegations have not been corroborated by independent election observers.
The ruling military council has now said it plans to hold new elections around the middle of next year, but critics have expressed concern that such polls are unlikely to be free and fair.
Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said the military was working hard to “create an impression of legitimacy” after toppling Suu Kyi’s government.
“Any suggestion that there might be a possibility of free and fair elections in Myanmar in 2023 is frankly absurd,” he told a press conference on Thursday.
Suu Kyi has already spent nearly 15 years under house arrest in Yangon under a military government.
A “digital dictatorship”
Since the start of the coup, military authorities have also used internet shutdowns to prevent the flow of information to Myanmar and beyond.
More recently, the junta has also shut down the internet in localized areas to target pockets of resistance in a certain city or region.
“Over time, the junta has experimented with different ways to impose its dictatorship through the digital sphere,” said Alp Toker, the founder of Netblocks.
“They tried every method imaginable to prevent people from communicating with each other and with the outside world.
“These internet shutdowns, whether localized or nationwide, are closely associated with military raids, enforced disappearances, and are ingrained in people’s minds as a form of fear and control.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Euronews the junta has a “systematic plan” in place to restrict people’s online movements.
“It’s about trying to hide the atrocities, such as burning villages, shooting people, mass arrests and abuses in detention,” he said.
“It certainly makes it more difficult for the research and the investigations that we want to do.”
Major social media platforms, such as Facebook or Telegram, have become essential communication tools for civilians in Myanmar, but have also been used to spread misinformation online and facilitate violence.
Pro-military vigilante groups have appeared online, targeting opponents of the regime by sharing their personal information and contact details.
“What we’re seeing is targeted surveillance against people deemed to be activists,” Robertson said.
One such account on Telegram – which has more than 50,000 subscribers – has helped arrest and even murder prominent opponents of the regime after publishing their addresses online.
Meta banned the Myanmar military shortly after the coup and also deleted Facebook accounts representing companies controlled by the military.
But analysts say the company has failed to prevent “hate speech” targeting anti-military protesters.
“Social media platforms have not done enough so far in terms of staff who understand the local language and crises, and can really get involved in complaints or abuse, harassment and torture,” said Toker told Euronews.
“Suffer in silence”
In February, the European Union sanctioned several top Myanmar officials, as well as a lucrative state-owned oil and gas company that helped fund the military takeover.
The bloc said it was “deeply concerned about the continued escalation of violence in Myanmar and the evolution towards a protracted conflict with regional implications”.
But one recent UN press release accused the international community of “keeping quiet” and urged countries to impose more targeted sanctions.
“The reality is that Myanmar is among the worst of the worst in the world,” Robertson told Euronews.
“We need sanctions restricting the sale or supply of dual-use surveillance technology, the things the junta uses to try to track down various political activists.”
“There should be a lot more pressure on companies that sell the Myanmar military things they can use against their own people.”
Netblocks, which has been documenting internet disruptions in Myanmar since the coup began, also calls for more action.
“Attention has been somewhat divided internationally with the war in Ukraine, and that means Myanmar has suffered in silence for the past few months,” Toker said.
“We need to find ways to reconnect people in Myanmar and make those voices heard.”