Myanmar’s detained leader Suu Kyi to face Naypyidaw court
After five years as the de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi finds herself in a familiar place: under house arrest while facing charges levelled by a military dictatorship, with her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), on the verge of dissolution.
On Monday, four months since the military seized power in a coup, the hugely popular politician will face trial in a Naypyidaw court on five charges including the illegal possession of walkie-talkies and breaking coronavirus restrictions while campaigning for elections. Military officials have also accused her of corruption and violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
There is a sense of finality about this showdown between Aung San Suu Kyi, and army chief and coup leader, Min Aung Hlaing.
At 75-years-old, Aung San Suu Kyi is facing prison sentences that could put her in jail for the rest of her life, permanently sidelining her from a political arena she has defined for decades. Meanwhile, many of her supporters have moved beyond her past calls for non-violent resistance and gradual reform, instead endorsing armed revolt and the total overthrow of the military regime.
“This time around, there is no indication that the regime plans to release Aung San Suu Kyi, allow her to communicate with her supporters, or use her as a bargaining chip in its relations with the outside world. Rather, Min Aung Hlaing wants to have a free hand to shape the political landscape free from the influence of her and the NLD,” said Richard Horsey, a political analyst with decades of experience in Myanmar.
Despite being largely shut off from the outside world for the last four months, she still occupies a central role in the continuing political crisis. Before the generals violently cracked down on protests, killing more than 850 civilians, posters and banners featuring Aung San Suu Kyi’s face were a mainstay at most demonstrations.
“It’s far too early to write her off. She is without a doubt by far the most popular political figure in the country, no one else even comes close,” said Thant Myint-U, historian and author of the Hidden History of Burma.
Altogether, Aung San Suu Kyi is facing seven criminal charges; five in the capital city of Naypyidaw, one at the Supreme Court and a recently added corruption accusation.
Her lawyers are among the only people who have had access to the detained leader since her arrest in February. The leader of her legal team, Khin Maung Zaw, said they met with Aung San Suu Kyi and deposed president Win Myint on Monday, June 7.
Khin Maung Zaw said the five cases in Naypyidaw were classified as “simple”, with hearings to be held every Monday and Tuesday until the end of the month.
For the Supreme Court case, he said the court marked Aung San Suu Kyi down as defending herself, something Khin Maung Zaw said was done “without her knowledge and consent”.
“She further said that she told the persons who kept her in custody that she wouldn’t defend her cases without a lawyer,” he said.
He said that while Aung San Suu Kyi has not been satisfied with the military’s arrangement to deliver her medicine regularly, she and the other two politicians “seemed to be in good health”.
When asked about her spirits, Khin Maung Zaw said, “Unlike me, she’s full of optimism”.
On Wednesday, the military revealed new corruption charges against Aung San Suu Kyi for allegedly taking bribes and leasing land at discounted rates, which carry an additional prison sentence of 15 years.
Khin Maung Zaw said the latest accusation is “absurd” and “groundless”. “She might have defects but personal greed and corruption is not her traits,” he said, calling her “incorruptible”.
Given the nature of the trials, Thinzar Shunlei Yi has encouraged Aung San Suu Kyi to “join CDM” by “boycotting the judicial system”. CDM stands for the Civil Disobedience Movement, a mass strike of civil servants refusing to work under the military regime.
“I don’t trust the domestic judicial system and I don’t think the [military] will do a fair trial for her and other leaders,” she said.