BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar
's deposed leader, Aung San Suu Kyi
, was set to go on trial
Monday on charges that many observers saw as an attempt by the military
junta that deposed her to delegitimize her democratic
election and cripple her political future.
Suu Kyi's prosecution represents the most significant challenge to the 75-year-old and her National League for Democracy
party since the February military coup that prevented them from taking office for a second five-year term following last year's landslide election victory.
Human Rights Watch
claimed that the allegations being heard in a special court in the capital, Naypyitaw, are “bogus and politically motivated,” with the goal of overturning the victory and barring Suu Kyi from running for office again.
“This trial is clearly the first salvo in a larger strategy to neutralize Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy party as a force capable of challenging military rule in the future,” said Phil Robertson, the organization’s deputy Asia director.
The army seized power on Feb. 1 before the new lawmakers could be seated, arresting Suu Kyi, who held the position of special counselor, as well as President
Win Myint and other members of her government and ruling party, and reversing years of slow progress toward more democracy in Myanmar.
The army seized power citing the government's failure to properly investigate alleged voting
irregularities, an assertion contested by the independent Asian Network for Free Elections
and many others. Junta officials have threatened to dissolve the National League for Democracy for alleged involvement in election fraud
, and any conviction for Suu Kyi could bar her from running for office.
The junta has stated that new elections will be held within the next year or two, but the country's military has a long history of promising elections and failing to deliver. The military ruled Myanmar for 50 years following a coup in 1962, and kept Suu Kyi under house
arrest for 15 years following a failed 1988 popular uprising.
Although street demonstrations have decreased in number and scale, the junta now faces a low-level armed insurgency by its opponents in both rural and urban areas, despite a violent crackdown that has killed hundreds of people
Suu Kyi is being tried on charges of illegally importing walkie-talkies for her bodyguards, unlicensed use of radios, and spreading information that could cause public alarm or unrest, as well as two counts of violating the Natural Disaster Management Law for allegedly violating pandemic
restrictions during the 2020 election
campaign, according to her lawyers on Sunday.
“All of these charges should be dropped, resulting in her immediate and unconditional release,” said Human Rights Watch’s Robertson, “but sadly, with restrictions on access to her lawyers and the case being heard before a court wholly beholden to the military junta, there is little chance she will receive a fair trial.”
Government prosecutors will have until June 28 to complete their presentation, after which Suu Kyi's defense team will have until July 26 to present its case, according to Khin Maung Zaw, the team's senior member, who stated last week that court sessions will be held on Monday and Tuesday each week.
Suu Kyi is charged with violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum 14-year prison
term, and police
last week filed complaints under a section of the Anti-Corruption Law that states
that political office holders convicted of bribery face a maximum 15-year prison term and a fine
Although Suu Kyi faced her first charge just days after the coup, she was not immediately allowed to consult with her lawyers; instead, she was only allowed the first of two brief face-to-face meetings with them at pre-trial hearings on May 24, when she made her first actual appearance in court; her previous court appearances had all been via video link.
A photo from her May 24 appearance, released by state media, showed her sitting straight-backed in a small courtroom, wearing a pink face mask
and her hands folded in her lap, alongside her two co-defendants on several charges, the former president and Myo Aung, the former mayor of Naypyitaw.
According to one of their lawyers, Min Min Soe, the three were able to meet with their defense team for about 30 minutes before the hearing started at a special court set up inside Naypyitaw's city council building. Senior lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said Suu Kyi "seems fit, alert, and smart, as always."