Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader, appeared in court yesterday for the start of a trial that is almost certain to find her guilty of politically motivated charges.
he 75-year-old is now facing a predicament worse than her 15 years under house arrest, persecuted by a military junta that is determined to keep her isolated as anger and protests rage across the country.
Ms Suu Kyi has been held incommunicado since the military seized power in a coup on February 1, detaining the civilian leader, her chief ministers and advisers.
Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won elections in a landslide in November for the second time, but the military claimed the vote was fraudulent, cancelled the result and took over the government.
In the months that followed, millions took to the streets in protest and worked to delegitimise the government through a campaign of civil disobedience. The military regime has responded with characteristic brutality, detaining almost 5,000 people. More than 800 have been killed in crackdowns on street protests and in military operations since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
Charges against Ms Suu Kyi, however, have been especially punitive. Shortly after her detention she was charged with possessing and importing walkie-talkies without a licence, but the military steadily slapped on more severe charges, including corruption and violating the colonial-era secrets act. She faces a total of seven charges and penalties of up to 15 years – meaning she could spend the rest of her life in detention. Myanmar’s civilian president Win Myint, who worked alongside Ms Suu Kyi in running the government before the coup, has also been held on similar charges.
Ms Suu Kyi, who turns 76 on Saturday, has only been allowed to meet her lawyers briefly on two occasions since she was detained. Unlike her years under house arrest, she does not know where she is being held, according to her lawyers, as she was moved to an undisclosed location after her arrest. The trial, which is set to run for weeks, is taking place behind closed doors, with information released only through her lawyers or state media.
Khin Maung Zaw, head of Ms Suu Kyi’s defence team, said the hearings began around 10.30am and went on for about six hours. Several prosecution witnesses were brought forward to testify.
Ms Suu Kyi, he added “seemed not very well” but “paid keen attention” to the hearing. Two other cases will be heard before the court today. Human rights groups and foreign governments have condemned Ms Suu Kyi’s treatment, and that of other politicians, activists, protesters and journalists in Myanmar.
Thousands of others who are detained at the hands of the military similarly face slim prospects of a just result.
State media broadcasts nightly lists of wanted people, many of them protesters who are described as terrorists. In the published mug shots, some appear bruised or injured, suggesting torture while in detention.
In a stark example, Myanmar Now reported last week that more than 32 young people, arrested for opposing the military coup, were tortured and then sentenced to prison.
Their trial was so hasty that it was in a makeshift courtroom.
© Washington Post