The trial against Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi began on Monday even as human rights groups said allegations against her are “bogus and politically motivated” aimed to stop her from holding a political office again.
The trial against the 75-year-old is closed but her lawyers said at the end of the day’s hearing that the prosecution began presenting its case.
Government prosecutors will have until 28 June to finish their presentation, after which Ms Suu Kyi’s defence team will have until 26 July to present its case, said Khin Maung Zaw, the team’s senior member, last week. The court sessions are due to be held on Monday and Tuesday each week.
On Sunday, her lawyers said that Ms Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally importing walkie-talkies for her bodyguards’ use and unlicensed use of the radios and spreading information that could cause public alarm or unrest.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner is also being charged for allegedly violating the Natural Disaster Management Law for allegedly breaking pandemic restrictions during the 2020 election campaign. She is also being charged for bribery under which she can be imprisoned for 15 years.
Phil Robertson, who is Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, said the “trial is clearly the opening salvo in an overall strategy to neuter Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) party as a force that can challenge military rule in the future”.
He said the criminal charges against Ms Suu Kyi are “bogus and politically motivated by the intention to nullify her landslide election victory in the November 2020 elections and prevent her from even running for office again.”
On 1 February, Myanmar’s military had replaced the democratically elected government just hours before the new parliament was about to convene for the first sitting. The military had arrested Ms Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s President Win Myint and top leaders of the NLD citing election fraud in the November 2020 elections even as the election commission has dismissed their allegations.
In the November 2020 elections, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won just 33 seats, while Ms Suu Kyi’s NLD won 396 out of the 476 available seats.
Mr Robertson said the charges against Ms Suu Kyi should be “dropped, resulting in her immediate and unconditional release.”
“But sadly, with the restrictions on access to her lawyers, and the case being heard in front of a court that is wholly beholden to the military junta, there is little likelihood she will receive a fair trial,” he said.
He warned that the junta gives every indication that additional cases will be piled on against her to “keep her locked away into the distant future.”
After her arrest on 1 February, Ms Suu Kyi had her first face-to-face meeting with her lawyers on 24 May, when she made her first actual appearance in court for a pre-trial hearing and after that, she had another brief meeting with them before seeing them in court Monday.
Soon after the coup, severe protests erupted across the country defying the military crackdown demanding the release of Ms Suu Kyi and other top leaders and restoring the civilian government. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group, 863 people have been killed since the coup while about 4,900 are still in detention.
The military, however, has promised to hold new elections and hand over power within a year but not everyone is convinced as there is a history of military ruling Myanmar for decades. It had kept Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest for about 15 years.
Additional reporting by agencies