Why is Aung San Suu Kyi such a threat to the Tatmadaw?Why is Aung San Suu Kyi such a threat to the Tatmadaw?
A protester holding up a poster featuring Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration against the military coup in front of the Central Bank of Myanmar in Yangon in February. Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A court in Myanmar is expected to deliver a verdict against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday on the charge of inciting public unrest, the first in a series of rulings that could keep the country’s ousted civilian leader locked up for years.
The 76-year-old, who was detained in a military coup in February, is facing 10 other charges and a maximum imprisonment of 102 years. Her trials have been heldin closed-door hearings in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar. The junta has barred all five of her lawyers from speaking to the media, saying their communications could “destabilize the country.”
The ruling would come a year after Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi led her party to a landslide election victory, trouncing the military-backed party. A guilty verdict is likely to galvanize an opposition movement that has spurred thousands of people to take up arms against the army since February when the generals seized power. The United Nations and foreign governments have described the trials as politically motivated.
In the months since the coup, people have gathered in the streets, doctors and nurses have stopped work in protest, and many have refused to pay taxes in a campaign known as the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Despite the threat of arrest, there is still widespread support for the movement. A growing number of soldiers are defecting, teaming up with armed protesters and insurgent groups to launch hit-and-run attacks against the military. The junta has responded by cracking down — it has killed 1,297 people and arrested more than 10,500 others, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a human rights organization based in Thailand.
The National Unity Government, a group of deposed civilian leaders, said last week that it raised $6.3 million from people who bought “bonds” to fund its revolution. For many of her supporters, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was seen as the only politician who could lead Myanmar toward full democracy. The country had been ruled by the military for half a century since 1962. After Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was elected in 2015, she was forced to share power with the army, which appointed 25 percent of Parliament.
She has not been seen in public or been able to speak to anyone beside from her lawyers since she was detained on Feb. 1. Just hours before she and her colleagues from the National League of Democracy Party were to take their seats in parliament, military officers detained them, accusing them of voter fraud. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has denied the charge.
Rights activists have condemned the charge of incitement, saying it is used to intimidate critics of the military. It carries a maximum sentence of three years and states that anyone who “publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report” with “intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public” could be found liable.
Prosecutors have continued to slap more charges on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi as her case proceeded. The verdict on Tuesday is the first of several that are expected to be announced in the coming months.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has long been a source of frustration among Myanmar’s military, so much so that it kept her under house arrest for nearly 15 years until 2010.
Analysts say the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has resented her overwhelming popularity among the people. In 2015, when the country held national elections, her party, the National League of Democracy, won in a landslide victory.
A year later, the N.L.D. introduced a bill in Parliament to create a new post for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi as state counselor. This move was seen as a direct challenge to the Tatmadaw because it circumvented the country’s Constitution, which was written by the generals and barred candidates for Myanmar’s presidency from having close family members who “owe allegiance to a foreign power.” (Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was married to a British man, who is now deceased, and has two sons, who live abroad.)
As state counselor, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi declared herself above the president and named herself foreign minister, a move that the military saw as a power grab.
Political experts say Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has always had a frosty relationship with the Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who orchestrated the February coup that removed her from power. For years, the two leaders sent messages through an intermediary, “like embittered divorces,” according to David Mathieson, a veteran analyst on Myanmar.
But during her time in power, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was criticized for being too deferential to the generals — she characterized her relationship with the military as “not that bad” and said the generals in her cabinet were “quite sweet.” In 2019, she infamously defended the army’s 2017 crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority at The Hague, angering the international community.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being tried on a slew of charges, including corruption and violating the Official Secrets Act, in addition to the one count of inciting public unrest.
She faces a maximum possible sentence of 102 years in prison if found guilty on all 11 counts she has been charged with so far. Her supporters say the charges are manufactured to remove her permanently from politics.
The five lawyers representing her have been placed under a highly unusual gag order prohibiting them from talking publicly about her case.
Five of the charges accuse her of engaging in corruption, including by accepting bribes in cash and gold. She has called those charges “absurd.”
She is being tried separately on a single charge of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which prohibits sharing state information that could be useful to an enemy. Her co-defendants in that case are former finance officials and her Australian economic policy adviser, Sean Turnell, suggesting that the charges involve government expenditures.
Myanmar’s election commission, which has been taken over by the regime, announced this month that it would be bring charges of electoral fraud against her and 15 other leaders of the National League for Democracy, her party. This case will be handled separately from her criminal trials and could result in the party being banned from participating in future elections.
The court is also expected to deliver a verdict soon on two counts of violating Covid-19 protocols. Those charges stem from an episode during the 2020 election campaign in which she stood outside, in a face mask and face shield, with her dog, Taichito, at her side, and waved to supporters passing by in vehicles. A video of the scene shows masked aides and security staff standing nearby, but socially distanced.
Closing arguments on two counts of illegally possessing and importing walkie-talkies are scheduled for next month. Her defense says the devices belonged to her security team, not her.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is being kept under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw, and tried in a special courtroom that was constructed in the living room of another house.