By LE Desk
March 1: 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, Bloomberg news reported.
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, signalled 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.”
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.