A closely guarded court has been specially set up for this purpose in the capital Naypyidaw, built in the heart of the jungle in the 1990s by the former military regime. This is where the first trial against Aung San Suu Kyi will open on Monday, four months after his arrest.
Arrested on the morning of February 1 and since under house arrest, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate – “in good health”, according to her lawyers, despite the weeks spent in solitary confinement – faces heterogeneous legal proceedings. On Monday, she is to be tried for illegally importing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions and violating a telecommunications law.
“The court will hear witnesses for the prosecution. Aung San Suu Kyi will not speak today ”(Monday), clarified one of his lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw. In a second procedure, she will appear from Tuesday for sedition alongside the former President of the Republic Win Myint.
The former de facto head of government, aged 75, is also charged with violating a colonial-era state secrets law and with corruption, accused of having received more than half a million dollars and ten kilos of gold in bribes. No trial date has been brought forward at this stage for these two charges, the heaviest against him.
We are going to attend a show procedure only motivated by political reasons
“We are preparing for the worst”
Aung San Suu Kyi faces long years in prison if convicted. The leader of the junta “Min Aung Hlaing is determined to lock him up for the rest of his life,” laments Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN network. “We are going to attend a show procedure solely motivated by political reasons.”
The former leader was only allowed to meet twice with the legal team tasked with defending her. Each meeting could not exceed about thirty minutes.
“We are preparing for the worst,” commented Khin Maung Zaw, who denounces “absurd” accusations trumped up in order to “keep her away from the (political) scene of the country and tarnish her image” .
To justify its passage in force, the army alleged “enormous” fraud in the legislative elections of November 2020, won overwhelmingly by the National League for Democracy (LND) of Aung San Suu Kyi. Burmese generals are threatening to dissolve this formation and have indicated that they want to organize new elections within two years.
A country in turmoil
Almost daily demonstrations, economy paralyzed by massive strikes, resurgence of clashes between the army and rebel ethnic factions … Burma has been in turmoil since the putsch which ended a democratic parenthesis of ten years. The protest movement is bloodily suppressed by the security forces who have killed more than 860 civilians in recent months, including women and children, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Nearly 5,000 people have been taken into custody, with NGOs denouncing cases of extra-judicial executions, torture or violence against women. The head of human rights at the United Nations, Michelle Bachelet, on Friday deplored the intensification of violence, adding that the junta was “entirely responsible for this crisis”.
The abuses have prompted many opponents of the junta to form a “People’s Defense Force” (PDF), made up of civilians who retaliate against the security forces with homemade weapons. But these citizen militias find it difficult to compete with the army, which has very significant resources.
An icon of democracy with a tarnished image
Aung San Suu Kyi has already spent more than fifteen years under house arrest under previous military dictatorships, before being released in 2010 and taking the head of the country five years later.
Long an icon of democracy compared to Nelson Mandela, Gandhi or Martin Luther King, his image has been considerably tarnished in recent years following the tragedy of the Rohingya Muslims who fled in 2017 by the hundreds of thousands the exactions of the army for take refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. The fact that she has become a political prisoner again and the trials that await her could be a game-changer again.
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