Suu Kyi Appears in Closed-Door Court Session Without Lawyer as Protests Continue
By Larry Jagan
Feb 17 2021 (IPS) – Myanmar’s top generals have begun the process to prevent
Aung San Suu Kyi – the country’s popular civilian leader – from ever
holding political power. Both she and president Win Myint were arraigned
in a closed-door court session via video link Tuesday, Feb. 16. This is the
beginning of a trial that is expected to take about six months to
conclude. If convicted, it will prevent Suu Kyi from standing in future
Suu Kyi is charged with violating import restrictions after
walkie-talkies and other foreign equipment that were found in her villa compound.
They were discovered during a search of her premises on Feb. 1, the day the
military launched a coup, seizing all judicial, executive and legislative
power, placing it in the hands of the commander-in-chief Senior General Min
The Nobel laureate has also been charged with contravening a
natural disaster management law by interacting with a crowd at an election
rally during the coronavirus pandemic. A charge that was added after her
original arrest and only publicly disclosed at her hearing. Win Myint is
charged with breaking COVID-19 restrictions. They reportedly
appeared without legal representation.
The coup leaders have promised elections sometime next year
after the state of emergency they have imposed is lifted. The authorities are
still investigation more serious accusations related to receiving foreign funds
– which could amount to charges of treason.
The military commanders also seem intent on preparing a case
against her party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) — in order to ban
it from politics and declare it an illegal organisation. The NLD, which
overwhelmingly won last November’s poll, remains a thorn in the military’s side
as for the past three weeks protestors have hit the street in their hundreds of
thousands, to defend democracy and reject the coup.
“The civil disobedience movement is a non-violent campaign
which was started by young doctors across the country: it was a spontaneous
grassroots response to the coup,” Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a prominent activist
involved with the protest in Yangon, told IPS. “It has grown daily as the civil
servants have inspired others to defend our democracy,” she added.
The protestors remain defiant in the face of the security
forces tightening the screw. They are facing daily intimidation, threats and
harassment at the hands of the police and soldiers strategically station to
discourage and disperse the protests. But troops, tanks and water cannons have
not deterred the protests, which are growing daily. But the strength of the
movement is that it encompasses all generations, all walks of life, civil
servant and workers. All of whom support democracy, though a large proportion
also support the NLD.
“This is very different from the 1988 pro-democracy
demonstrations when the student movement aspired to democracy but didn’t really
know what it meant,” Nyein Chan Aung an 88-year-old veteran told IPS. “This
time they know what they want, they know what they are losing, and they are
very, very angry.”
Meanwhile, the military are clearly on a mission to overhaul
and restructure the country’s fledgling democracy, turning the clock back to
the dark days of direct military rule.
For the past three weeks the new junta has rolled out a new
administration: from national, provisional to district and wards. Removing the
previous elected incumbents and putting in people close to the military.
The Supreme Court has been transformed, with the previous
NLD appointments routed out and replaced with judges loyal to their military
masters. The Union Election Commission has also been dismissed and swapped with
military loyalists. Key ministries have also been targeted and military
officers and personnel infiltrated, often at the highest level. This was the
common practice during the previous military regime. But the public service has
been largely transformed in the last ten years with comprehensive public
“The militarisation of the bureaucracy is under way again I
fear,” a former diplomat told IPS on condition of anonymity. “In the past it
destroyed civil servant moral, civil service efficiency and expertise, and made
the bureaucracy another arm of the military — stripped of initiative and think
independently – making it powerless to do anything else but follow orders and
recreating a truly authoritarian state.”
But the military junta has also dealt a death blow to
developing democratic ideals and practices, with the worst being the wholesale
changes in the laws and new edicts. Activists and human rights groups in
Myanmar have condemned these measures as unacceptable and a gross erosion of
basic civil and human rights, especially the changes to citizens protection and
These include prisoner’s right to a lawyer – Suu Kyi has
been denied access to her lawyer since she was detained at the beginning of
It also includes the right to detain prisoners for an
unlimited the right to arrest people without a warrant and search homes
unimpeded by local administrators, carry out surveillance unconstrained,
intercept any form of communications, and ask for users’ information from
The government has also enacted a draconian Cyber Law which
essentially allows them full access to digital information and all social media
– with the right to prosecute anyone they deem has crossed the line.
“The changes in the laws amount to the removal of all rights
of freedom of speech, association and liberty as well as the rights associated
the rule of law and fair trial,” Stephen McNamara, a UK lawyer who has worked
with lawyers in Myanmar since 2007, told IPS.
“These changes in the basic laws of Myanmar are wider than
any amendments since the nineteenth century. It reflects a military that
intends to stay in power for a very long time,” he told IPS.
The fact that the military launched the coup when it could
not get its own way clearly reflects the army’s mentality and priorities. They
could not accept the NLD’s crushing victory in the elections – and the second
time in five years.
They were shocked by the extent of their electoral triumph
victory and had been counting on being able to form some sort of coalition
government with various parties, including their pro-military partners, ethnic
political parties and even the NLD if they did not have an overwhelming
The military foresee a political future where the army is an
integral part of the political setup — integrated into the power structure and
administration much like the way they see Thailand. In fact the Commander
in Chief is very fond of what he sees as the model – an important role for the
army, where their economic interests are protected, a self sufficient economy
and ‘democratic’ outlook – which resists leftist, socialist or communist
leanings. It is a concept of pluralist democracy with no interest group having
the dominant role or power.
Of course the coup leaders also see former Senior General
Than Shwe’s ‘roadmap to democracy’ — developed in 2003 by the then intelligence
chief and prime minister — as the model to be followed. This projected the
final stage before a more liberal form of democracy as a coalition government
of national unity. But always the emphasis was on a ‘guided democracy’. So
while they are trying to turn back the clock to when the first elections were
held – they have in fact wound it back into the dark ages.
“The soldiers, police and their hired thugs come out at
night and wage a war of terror against the people – targeting prominent leaders
of the protest movement – and conducting their campaign of intimidation,
harassment and arrests,” Nyein Chan Aung told IPS.
“But this is different from 1988, and the new generational
tactics have armed the protestors with weapons that will help defeat the
military in the long run. With mobile phones, the internet and social media the
civil disobedience movement has a voice that’s being heard across the world.
The military’s tactics are doomed to fail this time round.”