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Verdicts postponed in second case against Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi leaves the International Court of Justice after a hearing in 2019 on Myanmar’s actions regarding the Rohingya Muslim minority.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)

A court in military-ruled Myanmar postponed its verdicts Monday on two charges against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in which she is accused of importing and possessing walkie-talkies without following official procedures, a legal official familiar with the case said.

The case in the court in the capital, Naypyitaw, is among many brought against the 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate since the army seized power Feb. 1, ousted her elected government and arrested top members of her National League for Democracy party.

The court gave no reason for delaying the verdicts until Jan. 10, according to the legal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities, who have restricted the release of information about Suu Kyi’s trials.

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Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory in last year’s general election, but the military alleged widespread electoral fraud, which independent poll watchers doubt.

Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say all the charges against her are politically motivated and an attempt to discredit her and legitimate the military’s seizure of power while keeping her from returning to politics. If found guilty of all the charges she faces, she could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

Suu Kyi was convicted Dec. 6 on two other charges — incitement and breaching COVID-19 restrictions — and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Hours after the sentence was issued, the head of the military-installed government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, reduced it by half. She is being held by the military at an unknown location, and state television reported that she would serve her sentence there.

The sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi is a blow to Myanmar’s democratic aspirations, but worldwide fervor over her fate had already faded.

Suu Kyi has been attending court hearings in prison clothes — a white top and a brown longyi skirt provided by the authorities. The hearings are closed to the media, and spectators and the prosecutors do not comment. Her lawyers, who had been a source of information on the proceedings, were served with gag orders in October.

A charge of having improperly imported walkies-talkies was the first filed against Suu Kyi and served as the initial justification for her continued detention. A second charge of illegally possessing the radios was filed the following month.

The radios were seized from the gate of her residence and the barracks of her bodyguards during a search Feb. 1, the day she was arrested.

Suu Kyi’s lawyers argued that the radios were not in her personal possession and were legitimately used to help provide for her security, but the court declined to dismiss the charges.

Myanmar’s civilian leader made a Faustian bargain with the army for political gain, critics say. It ended with her detention in Monday’s coup.

The court Monday also heard video testimony from the vice chairman of Suu Kyi’s party, Zaw Myint Maung, in another case against her involving alleged violation of COVID-19 restrictions during last year’s election campaign, the legal official said.

Zaw Myint Maung, who had been unable to appear in court earlier for health reasons, testified that people had gathered to see her in Shwe Kyar Pin Ward during the campaign because they respected her, and that it wasn’t a violation of coronavirus restrictions, the official said.

The maximum penalty for that alleged offense is three years in prison and a fine.

Suu Kyi is also being tried in the same court on five counts of corruption. The maximum penalty for each count is 15 years in prison and a fine. A sixth corruption charge, in which she and ousted President Win Myint are accused of granting permits to rent and buy a helicopter, has not yet gone to trial.

It’s outrageous that the military in power in Myanmar has now sentenced Suu Kyi to prison on absurd charges.

In separate proceedings, she is accused of violating the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum term of 14 years.

Additional charges were also added by Myanmar’s election commission against Suu Kyi and 15 other politicians in November for alleged fraud in last year’s election. The charges by the military-controlled Union Election Commission could result in Suu Kyi’s party being dissolved and unable to participate in a new election that the military has promised will take place within two years of its takeover.

The military’s seizure of power was met by nonviolent nationwide demonstrations, which security forces quashed with deadly force, killing nearly 1,400 civilians, according to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Assn. for Political Prisoners.

Peaceful protests have continued, but amid the severe crackdown, an armed resistance has also grown, to the point that United Nations experts have warned the country could be sliding into civil war.


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