Political Punch But no Legal Merit Seen in Charges Against Myanmar Leader

2021-04-15
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Political Punch But no Legal Merit Seen in Charges Against Myanmar Leader Activists hold a portrait of Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi while standing on portraits of the country's military general Min Aung Hlaing during a protest outside the United Nations University building in Tokyo on Feb. 1, 2021,
AFP

The charges that Myanmar’s junta has piled on leader Aung San Suu Kyi since deposing and arresting her in February – ranging from possession of unlicensed walkie-talkie radios, to taking bribes, to sedition – lack legal merit but appear designed to end her political career, lawyers and analysts said Thursday.

The 75-year-old Nobel laureate has a 3-0 record of landslide election victories against military proxy parties in 1990, 2015 and 2020, and was overthrown hours before lawmakers from her National League for Democracy (NLD) were to convene the parliament elected in November with a huge majority.

Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest in the capital Naypyidaw, faces charges under the Official Secrets Act, incitement and sedition, violation of telecommunication laws, possession of unlicensed walkie-talkie radios, and violation of the Natural Disaster Management Law for breaching COVID-19 pandemic restrictions during the 2020 election campaign.

The junta recently added charges that she has taken millions of dollars in bribes from Pyo Min Thein, a former Yangon chief minister and Maung Weik, a wealthy businessman.

Sithu Aung Myint, a journalist and political commentator, told RFA that General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the coup and military commander-in-chief, appears set on killing off Aung San Su Kyi’s political career.

"At first, the military leader said he had to stage the coup because of fraudulent election results. Then later he said there was corruption. He accused Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of using money from people like George Soros in the U.S. to make the country a puppet of the West, to undermine our religion with a view to getting support for himself from the military,” he said.

"Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing seems to have the intention of permanently defeating the NLD party, especially Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She has the most popular support in the country and he seems to be worried that she might have as many supporters in the army. So all these baseless charges have to be made to get rid of that support for her,” added Sithu Aung Myint.

With six charges against her in courts packed with military-appointed judges, "it's going to come to about 20 years of jail sentences if she is found guilty of all charges,” said High Court lawyer Kyee Myint. The Official Secrets Act alone can bring up to 14 years in prison.

“They could say they're going to show leniency and release her because she is General Aung San's daughter, but she won't be able to get involved in politics anymore,” he said, referring to the revered independence leader, who was assassinated in 1947 when Aung San Suu Kyi was two years old.

"The chief justice is a military general and the attorney general is also a military appointee. There's no real law in Myanmar anymore,” added Kyee Mint.

Another High Court lawyer. Khin Maung Zaw, told RFA: "We may have a lot of differences on certain things, but I believe in Aung San Suu Kyi’s moral character and self-sacrifice. I don't believe in people who have made these charges based on unfounded accusations, and I don't believe these people."

Of her defense team of eight lawyers, only two junior lawyers were allowed to appear in the earlier rounds of court sessions, done by online video under coronavirus restrictions. But at the last court hearing on Monday, four additional lawyers were allowed to attend the hearing.

Min Min Soe, who has met Aung San Suu Kyi three times during online hearings, quoted her as saying: "We shall defend ourselves against all the charges in accordance with the law."

 Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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