Myanmar junta launches first trial of Aung San Suu Kyi since February coup

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The trial of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will testify for the first time in a junta court on Monday, more than four months after a military coup.

Nearly daily protests have shaken Myanmar since the generals’ putsch overthrew its government in February, ending a 10-year experiment with democracy.

According to a local monitoring group, the mass uprising was met with a brutal military crackdown that killed more than 850 people.

The junta has filed an eclectic array of charges against the Nobel laureate, from illegally accepting 11 kilograms of gold to violating a colonial-era secrecy law.

On Monday, her defense team will cross-examine witnesses over allegations that she imported inappropriate walkie-talkies and violated coronavirus restrictions during last year’s election, which won her National League for Democracy in a landslide.

Her lawyers, who have only met her twice since she was placed under house arrest, have said they expect the trial to be concluded on July 26.

Hearings for the case will take place every Monday.

If convicted on all charges, 75-year-old Suu Kyi faces more than 10 years in prison.

“We hope for the best, but are prepared for the worst,” Khin Maung Zaw, one of Suu Kyi’s lawyers, told AFP ahead of the hearing in the capital Naypyidaw.

A separate case will start on June 15, in which she will be charged with sedition along with deposed President Win Myint and another senior member of the NLD.

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Suu Kyi was under house arrest for more than 15 years during the previous junta’s rule before being released in 2010.

Her international status declined after a wave of military violence against Myanmar’s marginalized Buddhist-majority Muslim Rohingya community, but the coup has returned Suu Kyi to the role of secluded democratic icon.

On Thursday, she was charged with additional corruption for illegally taking $600,000 in cash and about 11 kilograms of gold.

Her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw dismissed the new charges – which would see Suu Kyi face another long prison term – as “absurd”.

“There is an undeniable political background to keep her off the stage of the country and tarnish her prestige,” he told AFP last week.

“That’s one of the reasons for suing her – to keep her off the scene.”

Myanmar has plunged into a “human rights catastrophe” since the coup, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Friday, adding that the military leadership was “particularly responsible” for the crisis.

Bachelet also denounced the country’s sweeping arrests of activists, journalists and opponents of the regime, citing credible sources that say at least 4,804 people are in arbitrary detention.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has justified his seizure of power by citing alleged electoral fraud in the November poll won by Suu Kyi’s NLD.

The junta has previously said it will hold new elections within two years, but has also threatened to dissolve the NLD.

(AFP)