A Myanmar court on Monday brought additional charges against detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi that could keep her behind bars for an even longer period of time, according to lawyers for her and her party.
The new charges came as the Southeast Asian country saw its deadliest day of protests since the Feb. 1 coup on Sunday, with the United Nations saying at least 18 protesters were killed in a stark escalation of violence to quell persistent demonstrations against military rule.
Suu Kyi, who is among more than 1,000 people detained since the Feb. 1 coup, is already facing six years in prison on charges of illegally importing walkie-talkies and for breaching the Natural Disaster Management Law. The additional charges added Monday include incitement under section 505(b) of the country’s penal code used by the authorities to criminalize speech “likely to cause fear or alarm in the public,” her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said.
The court also added another charge under the telecommunications law for owning equipment without the requisite licenses, Myanmar Now reported, citing lawyer Min Min Soe, who is defending Suu Kyi and other leaders of her National League for Democracy party. That charge could add a year to the ousted leader’s likely punishment.
Appearing via video link before a court in Naypyidaw, Suu Kyi appeared to be in good health, Khin Maung Zaw said, adding the new incitement charge was also applied to ousted president Win Myint and former Naypyidaw Council chairman Myo Aung.
More than 30 others were wounded when soldiers and police fired live ammunition into crowds in six cities across Myanmar on Sunday, UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement. Myanmar’s government said 12 people died.
The U.S., which has announced sanctions targeting Myanmar’s military leaders and called for a return to democracy, signaled that it plans to respond with further measures.
“To that end, we are preparing additional actions to impose further costs on those responsible for this latest outbreak of violence and the recent coup,” Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said in a statement. “We will have more to share in the coming days.”
The rising death toll may increase pressure on governments around the world to take more action against Myanmar’s generals, who refused to recognize a landslide election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party in November. A court in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw is set to hear cases against Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint later on Monday, Mizzima News reported.
“In shooting against unarmed citizens, the security forces have shown a blatant disregard for international law, and must be held to account,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs. “Violence will not give legitimacy to the illegal over-throwing of the democratically-elected government.”
We are heartbroken to see the loss of so many lives in Myanmar. People should not face violence for expressing dissent against the military coup. Targeting of civilians is abhorrent.
— U.S. Embassy Burma (@USEmbassyBurma) February 28, 2021
Prior to this weekend, only three protesters had died among hundreds of thousands that have protested almost daily across the country. Yet the country has become increasingly ungovernable as more people join the protest movement, leaving hospitals understaffed, containers stacking up at ports and bank ATMs running out of cash.
The Myanmar Police Force said that 571 protesters had been detained in 11 provinces on Sunday, after the UN Human Rights Office said more than 1,000 people had been “arbitrarily arrested” since the coup.
On Sunday night, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry repeated that the military takeover was constitutional and said some foreign countries were “wrongly misinterpreting it as a coup and anti-dictatorship protests.” It added that the government was “ensuring minimal use of force by avoiding a violent crackdown.”
With the mass civil disobedience movement disrupting normal banking operations, the Central Bank of Myanmar began limiting cash withdrawals on Monday. Individuals will not be allowed to withdraw more than 2 million kyat ($1,406) from their bank accounts while businesses will be allowed to withdraw up to 20 million kyat a week, according to a directive signed by central bank Deputy Governor Than Than Swe.
The protests and work stoppages also took a toll on industrial activity in the country, with the purchasing managers’ index for manufacturers plunging more than 20 points to a record low of 27.7 in February, IHS Markit said Monday. That’s well below the 50 level that divides between expansion and contraction territory.
The junta fired Myanmar’s UN envoy Kyaw Moe Tun on Saturday after he urged the international community a day earlier not to accept the military regime and instead recognize the results of the November general election.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy plans to put together a parallel government that could engage with the international community, the Financial Times reported, citing a party official who is on the run.
Southeast Asian foreign ministers are making arrangements to meet this week to discuss the situation, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday. It said most members of the 10-nation ASEAN group have expressed a willingness to join, and Myanmar has been asked to participate.
Five journalists were arrested on Saturday for reporting on anti-coup protests, according to Myanmar Journalists Network. One of them is reported to be a photojournalist with the Associated Press, the news agency said.
Myanmar’s violent crackdown is “outrageous and unacceptable, and must be immediately halted,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch. “Live ammunition should not be used to control or disperse protests and lethal force can only be used to protect life or prevent serious injury.” –Bloomberg